A WEEK after a church in Truro appealed for aid to help migrants camping in squalid conditions outside Calais (News, 21 August), volunteers were able to deliver more than 100 boxes and bags of supplies to them.
“It was incredible,” Lydia Remick, who is training to be a Reader at All Saints’, Highertown, said. She had organised the collection. “We made it very clear that our reason for going was purely humanitarian — the immigration side was something for others to handle — so we weren’t quite sure where people were with that.
“We never expected the level of support. People didn’t just turn up with a small carrier bag: most arrived with two or three binbags full.”
Within an hour of her appeal on local radio at 8 a.m. on 9 August, a bag appeared in the church porch. Two days later, the Sunday school was full; and then the church hall became a store.
Mrs Remick and the Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, the Revd Jeremy Putnam, initially planned to take a carload to a London aid distributor, but they soon decided to hire a van and deliver it directly to “the Jungle”, as the migrants’ camp has been called.
A hire company gave them a cheap deal on a long-wheelbase Transit, which was dubbed “God’s TARDIS”, because of the way in which it seemed to swallow all the donations. Mrs Remick said: “It was a kind of miracle that it all went inside.”
They left Truro at 4 a.m. on Tuesday of last week, and arrived eight hours later at a depot outside Calais run by Secours Catholique, part of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, one of the few groups working with the migrants.
Later, they visited the camp, where Mrs Remick described conditions as “dire”. She said: “I have seen camps in Sri Lanka and Zambia which were pretty ramshackle, but this was something else. There are piles of rubbish and dirt everywhere. It was just incredibly bleak.
“But the people seem so happy. When you hear their stories of what they have fled from, you start to understand how they can be happy, because they are safe there. . . They were grateful that we had come to help, and wanted to get across a message that they are not violent, or animals, or looking for benefits.”
The group also visited the Ethiopian Orthodox church that the migrants have built from timber and canvas. “There was an incredible sense of God’s presence in there,” Mrs Remick said. “To be able to pray in that place for those people was special.”
Reflecting on the trip, she said: “We achieved something worth while, but there was a feeling of ‘It’s not enough,’ which is really hard, as you know that whatever you do is never enough. We do want to do more — and we will.”
Mr Putnam said: “We felt this was a challenge we should get involved with. It’s about carrying the message that these are human beings. Our beliefs are a far stronger bond than our passports. Currently, 5000 immigrants are living in diabolical conditions, suffering awful health problems as a result. The UK Government’s answer was to build a wall one mile long. Europe does not need another wall. It needs compassion.”
May signs deal with the French. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, signed an agreement in Calais on Thursday of last week, detailing new measures to alleviate the situation.
Mrs May said that the declaration committed the UK and France to “a thorough security programme in Calais and Coquelles, combined with the continued unprecedented French police presence in the region. This will include further physical improvements in and around the tunnel and port areas, more CCTV, infra-red equipment, floodlighting and fencing, and more than 100 additional security guards.”
She said that both countries must “relentlessly pursue and disrupt the callous criminal gangs” who trafficked vulnerable people. The declaration makes a commitment to a joint programme to ensure that trafficked or extremely vulnerable people are quickly identified and supported. There is also to be a joint project team in Calais to maximise efforts to return economic migrants to their home countries.
France was responsible for people wanting to claim asylum there, Mrs May said: “But we recognise the special circumstances of Calais as the closest port to the UK, and today agreed [that] the UK will provide France with additional expertise, capacity, and additional funding in support.”