In the summer of 2015, Libby Freeman visited the camp at Calais with some friends, bringing a vanload of donated clothes and food. What she saw shocked her so deeply that upon her return she started Calais Action, a direct-giving group of personal individuals collecting items and raising funds for refugees in Europe. People from all over the UK joined through the Calais Action Facebook page and since then we have collected and delivered over 8,000 square feet of donated aid, raised over £65,000 to provide essential supplies, and supplied infrastructure for grass-roots groups on the ground from Calais to Hungary and the Greek islands.
None of us are paid and we give our time and skills voluntarily. We’re ordinary people who wanted to do something about the refugee crisis. For too long we expected someone else – Europe, the UK Government, major aid organisations – to deal with the upheaval and the suffering. But as the months went on it became apparent that they weren’t. Men, women and children were drowning in the Aegean sea, being tear-gassed, beaten with rubber truncheons or put into detention centres for the crime of wanting to leave a war-torn country or dictatorship. People so desperate to leave that they would hang onto lorries and boats and jump onto moving trains.
To relieve the misery of the camps we’ve sent out more than 30 truckloads of essential aid items to Calais, helped create and stock the Refugee Kitchen and part-funded a minibus for the building project. We’ve provided gas, food and cooking implements to Dunkirk. We sent an articulated lorry of aid to refugees in Hungary in association with the Muslim Hands charity, and a shipping container of tents, sleeping bags and clothes to Samos in the Greek islands, where we’ve also purchased a minibus and a storage container, and helped fund a food and medicines account. Our latest delivery was a forty-foot shipping container of pre-packed backpacks from our Christmas appeal to refugees in Chios. Some of our core members have also gone out to volunteer with local groups in Calais, Samos and Chios. We have held awareness raising events with MPs about the refugee crisis and liaise frequently with peers.
The people-to-people solidarity movement, of which Calais Action are part, is one of the big triumphs of the Internet and makes Facebook itself worthwhile. However, it’s important to highlight that real political change is the only solution to the refugee crisis. The root causes of refugee migration and why people are fleeing their home countries have to be addressed. But while that political solution is not forthcoming, we’re not going to sit back and watch people die crossing the Aegean or freeze during a winter in Calais.