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May
2016
Saturday 21st
posted by Morning Star in Features

STEVE SWEENEY explains why the labour movement should get behind the Convoy to Calais


JUST across the shores from Britain, 4,500 people are living in squalid conditions in the Calais refugee camp known as “The Jungle.”

What has been described as the biggest humanitarian crisis since the second world war continues to unfold as thousands drown in the Mediterranean, fleeing warzones and bombs being dropped on them by Western governments, including Britain.

Fortress Europe has been established with a shameful deal being struck between Turkey and the EU seeing desperate people being forcibly removed and sent back into the arms of those they are fleeing.

In a display of callousness, Tory MPs voted down an amendment to the Immigration Bill and denied entry to Britain to 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian children.

At a time when Tory racism is running rampant and migrants are being scapegoated, the convoy is more important than ever.

I was part of a delegation of organisers that went across to Calais to meet with aid organisations and others ahead of the Convoy to Calais.

It was heartening to see the spirited volunteers who are running the warehouses and what seemed to be a slick distribution operation.

This is important in ensuring that the right items are reaching the refugees as they sort through boxes and bags of donated items.

Members of the delegation who had been to Calais previously expressed their surprise at what they saw once we reached the camp.

What was once a vibrant and busy area had vanished following a controversial clearance which sounded brutal as police fired tear gas at refugees and bulldozers moved in to destroy their homes. Many of them caught fire and were burned to the ground.

French President Francois Hollande described the clearances as a success, however one of the aid workers we met said that what she thought he meant was that it had “cleared the idea of the camp from the minds of the public.”

Many people think that the camp has disappeared, and this can be a problem in the process of collecting aid for refugees.

We heard about an attempt to burn down one of the warehouses collecting and storing aid. Fortunately one of the volunteers was on site and called the fire brigade and police.

While firefighters put out the blaze, we heard that the police stood by doing nothing other than laughing and saying: “Good luck to them.”

There was a nervousness about the politics of the convoy and the message that we are bringing.

This is understandable given the complexities of running aid operations and of building relationships with local prefectures, the police and other authorities, but it also underlines even further the need for a bold political statement and message of solidarity. 

This is the key to the convoy. It is not just an aid trip but the biggest show of solidarity with refugees this country has ever seen.

When we went to the camp, what I saw was a resilience and great courage from a people who have experienced unknowable trauma and have fled their homes to seek a safer and more secure life.

We met some extraordinary people. One of the first people we met was an Ethiopian man who was pleased to see us, inviting us to his home and with great pride showing us the church that they had built that had featured on Songs of Praise.

Young men were playing cricket and football, encouraging us to have a kick of the ball. Many people would smile and greet us with a “hello.” But there was a more serious side. As we walked past a young man with his face covered with dressings, he nodded over to our guide with a knowing look and simply said “police,” pointing to his wounds. It appears that this is a common occurence.

The camp itself was more of a shanty town, with the refugees having built their own shops and restaurants.

Homes were made from sheets and wood.

One of the most poignant messages among the many anti-war slogans that were painted on walls and tarpaulin was simple — “Together we are stronger.”

This political statement underpins the message of the convoy — solidarity with refugees and a clear message to the Tory government ahead of the EU referendum.

  • The Convoy to Calais will leave Whitehall at 10am on Saturday June 18 in a moving protest. The convoy has been organised by the People’s Assembly, Stop the War and Stand Up to Racism and is supported by trade unions including Unite, Unison, Aslef, CWU, PCS, TSSA and organisations including the Muslim Association of Britain and the Woodcraft Folk. Further information, including how to book your space and the approved list of donations, can be found at www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/convoy_to_calais.



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