Ashamed Brits mobilize to help refugees in Calais

Apparently shamed by the inaction of David Cameron’s government, British citizens have taken up the fight and are sending money and supplies across the Channel destined for refugees living in squalid conditions in Calais.

Ashamed Brits mobilize to help refugees in Calais
A refugee in the New Jungle camp in Calais clutches a sleeping bag and a message from those who donated it. Photo: AFP

The plight of the estimated 3,000 refugees camped out on wasteland near Calais in makeshift tents and huts is spurring the British public into action.

While the response from the UK authorities towards the crisis in Calais has chiefly been to step up security to keep the migrants out, the public’s response has been to send tens of thousands of pounds of aid and supplies across the Channel.

New charities have been set up too, and there’s numerous accounts of people who are filling up their car boots with supplies and driving across the Channel to give it out.

Facebook groups set up to share experiences and coordinate action now boast tens of thousands of followers.

One typical message reads: “I'm traveling to Folkestone and jumping on the channel tunnel into Calais on Wednesday 9th September with a van full of aid. Please can you advise of a drop of location or locations.”

One of the new charitable organisations is Calaid, which was born out of a simple Facebook post written by Jaz O’Hara, who visited the New Jungle camp in Calais earlier this summer to make a film for The Worldwide Tribe community.

Her account of the desperate living conditions and an appeal for help went viral, being shared thousands of times. She was then inundated with supplies and donations.

“We’ve raised over €130,000 which is a crazy amount of money. We’ve just had so much support with people offering both financial and physical donations,” she told The Local.

(Jaz O'Hara with a refugee in the New Jungle camp in Calais. Photo: AFP)

The group has been forced to put a notice on their website telling people that for the moment they have run out of storage space for donations.

But they are in the process of setting up a network so people across the country can get donations to Calais.

As well as Calaid there are other groups that have been set up, such as Calais Action, Kent for Calais and Calais People to People Solidarity action from UK, to give the British people an opportunity to donate funds and supplies to those refugees from Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan and other countries, who are desperate to leave Calais for the UK.

The Justgiving charity donation webpage lists numerous groups raising money for refugees in Calais including the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, that has far surpassed its target of raising €5,000.

O’Hara puts the “overwhelming” response down to a sentiment among the British public that their government is not doing enough.

“I think people are angry that the government is turning its back on a desperate situation in Calais. People are now taking action on their own.

“At first there was a lot of negative news in the UK about “migrants”, but people are starting to realise no one risks their lives to live on benefits in the UK. It took the photo of a three-year-old drowned Syrian boy to change things.”

O’Hara, who works in fashion, accepts that she and her two brothers, who are also involved, are not best placed to know how to spend the money, so they work with French charities on the ground to decide where the resources are needed most.

“I don’t think about policies or have any answers, only about providing aid. Every time I go to Calais I am shocked and emotional. It’s overwhelming. These people still have hope despite their desperate situation.

“It needs to change. It’s crazy that people are living in these conditions.”


The action from the British public has been noticed and welcomed by the French charities working on the ground in Calais.

“Since the beginning of summer we have seen an increase in the number of people coming from Britain to distribute equipment and essentials to the migrants,” Jean-François Corty from Medecins du Monde in Calais told The Local.

“It’s a great thing and shows a real mobilisation. Like many French people they are totally disappointed by the lack of response from their governments, because they can see that it is Germany's Angela Merkel who is leading on this issue.

“They know this is a problem that concerns the UK, because most of the refugees in Calais want to get to Britain.”

Corty says there needs to be organisation around the delivery of aid and has advised Brits heading over the Channel with a carload of supplies to coordinate with local charities like Secours Catholiques.

Corty criticised France’s new plan to build a new camp for only 1,500 migrants when around 3,000 are living in the New Jungle.

“It’s unacceptable. There people are living in danger and we need to continue to mobilise both the French and the English governments to provide protection for these people,” he said.



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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.