Bicycles, tents, guitars: Brits send support to Calais migrants

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Published: August 22, 2015 3:18:34 PM

Festival lover Emily Jennings was so fed up with seeing abandoned tents, she decided to turn British people's waste into much needed shelter for the increasing number of migrants living in makeshift camps in Calais and trying to reach Britain.

Festival lover Emily Jennings was so fed up with seeing abandoned tents, she decided to turn British people’s waste into much needed shelter for the increasing number of migrants living in makeshift camps in Calais and trying to reach Britain.

“We have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. Right in the middle of the summer we have a number of festivals, and if you look at the aftermath, we are very wasteful,” Jennings told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of her visit to Calais.

“We’re saving loads of tents from going to landfill, and giving them to people that need a temporary home,” said Jennings, a member of No Borders Leeds, one of a growing number of groups offering support to refugees and migrants in Calais.

Some 3,000 migrants live near the entrance of the Eurotunnel undersea rail link between France and Britain in a makeshift camp known as “The Jungle”, trying every night to board trucks and get to Britain without permits.

Their presence makes the northern French port one of the front lines in Europe’s wider migrant crisis, alongside Italian and Greek islands used as entry points by hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to escape conflict, repression or poverty in homelands in Africa or the Middle East.

A wave of British volunteers like Jennings and grassroots groups have been using social media to plan and help relieve what has become recognised as a humanitarian crisis.

“When you realise these are human beings, and any one of us could have ended up in that situation if we’d been born in a different country, then you realise that this is the least we can do”, Jennings said.

The movement to help those in Calais is gaining momentum, just as Britain and France announced new security measures on Thursday to protect the tunnel entrance, including more French police, British-funded fencing and CCTV, while stepping up joint police operations against people smugglers.


As well as providing conventional aid such as food and shelter, British volunteers are also donating more unusual items, including bicycles and musical instruments.

English teacher and writer David Charles, who first travelled to Calais by bicycle last year, was so inspired by the plight of those living in the camp that he returned several times and encouraged friends and families to give their support.

“In many ways it’s a life-changing experience… sharing the same space as people who have come from Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan – and have done so much to get so far,” Charles told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

His group, which plans to give bicycles to migrants to save them walking long distances to get food and water, has gained strong support on Facebook.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive… people are interested in learning more about Calais,” he said.

Music Against Borders is collecting musical instruments to donate to migrants, and intends to connect migrants with musicians and introduce them to British music.

“We stand in solidarity with all migrant people and recognise the centrality of music and culture in maintaining a sense of identity and humanity in the face of a brutal and oppressive immigration system,” the group said on Facebook.


A groundswell of support for the movement online has allowed various individuals and groups to provide far more support than they might have envisaged initially.

The Worldwide Tribe, which has garnered 24,000 likes on Facebook despite having formed only at the start of August, originally planned to film a documentary about the camp.

But the group has far exceeded its initial 1,000 pound ($1,565) target, raising almost 55,000 pounds ($86,000) on its online fundraising page which will be spent on food, clothing and shelter for the migrants in Calais.

Financial journalist Mona Dohle is a member of a campaign group organising a series of convoys carrying supplies from London to Calais, which has raised 7,000 pounds ($11,000) in online donations.

Like many volunteers, Dohle said she was inspired to help by the negative portrayal of the migrants by some sections of the British media.

“Frankly we wanted to make a statement against the attacks against migrants that are going on at the moment in the media,” Dohle told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We wanted to show that doesn’t necessarily reflect what ordinary British people are thinking about the situation.” ($1 = 0.6387 pounds)

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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