Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust’s Aid Delivery to Calais Refugee Camp

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As you all know over the last month, nearly two, we have been doing our best to respond to the humanitarian disaster in Calais (and across Europe). After a quick decision on a Thursday morning to organise the collection, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support we received at the Saturday home game versus Billericay Town on the 5th September.

The amount of donations made was astonishing. People were coming to drop items off who weren’t even at the game, we also had people continuing to turn up over the next week with more donations, I think even two vans turned up at one point. Originally I was expecting to take home the donations in a cab and stick them in my shed. As they piled up all I could think was “I’m gonna need a bigger shed”. In the end we ended up using the shed at the Greendale end of the ground, a turnstile AND two 75 sq ft  storage containers!

After successfully organising the collection, we were onto the next step of sorting them all. This was an absolutely necessary task as it determined what would and wouldn’t be suitable for Calais. It would also allow us to deliver the support in the correct way once we arrived at the camp. There are many stories of donations just being dumped or not going to the people who are most in need as well as items that are definitely not needed littering the camps such as stilettos. We didn’t want to be one of these stories.

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Helping us to approach this mammoth task was the South East London’s People to People’s solidarity group, who we would later be joining on our trip to Calais. They had been working with people on the ground in Calais to make sure we took the right support to the right places.

Over about a week, maybe two weeks, many people came down to help sort; committee members, trust board members, regular fans, occasional fans, fans of other teams and even people who didn’t really care about football but just wanted to help. I think over the course of time we may have had nearly 80 different people supporting the cause and getting involved in the mass sort.

We also managed to get some much needed items out to Calais only a few days after the collection, with Simon from Plan C taking some of the larger tents and sleeping bags.

As anticipated not all the items were suitable for Calais at this time (as the items needed can change), so as part of the sorting we organised these items and took them to places where they would be most needed in the local community and beyond.

Some items were taken to the Brixton and Norwood foodbank and local charity shops that will help people who need support here at home. We also worked with the Local Salvation Army refugee centre to get items to people who had been able to make the journey to Britain but are still in need of support.

Further afield, some items were sent to the Middle East and Kos where many more refugees are landing daily. Ruth Miller took women’s and children’s clothing to the Samara Appeal who distribute them around refugee camps in the Middle East and Sophie Powell sent  out women’s sanitary items and children’s nappies to Kos in Greece.

On October 15th at 4am we set out to Calais, two vans and two cars. When we arrived at Calais we were in for an instant shock after we got stuck in a traffic jam with lorries next to us and witnessed their doors being forced open and individual refugees jumping in. Seeing this on the news was one thing but I wasn’t quite expecting to see it in person.

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Although this situation has been labelled very negatively in the press, as we turned a corner you could suddenly understand why people where so desperate to do what they were doing. In front of us, we witnessed something which looked like a rubbish tip, until you went closer and realised these were tents and ramshackle structures where people lived. It was like some sci-fi dystopian future but this was…. now.

Arriving in the camp, we were told it had not rained for a couple of days but it was still water logged. Apparently its permanently like this and will only get worse during the winter months.

Close up was a whole other level. Seeing the conditions people were forced to live in was harrowing. Their accommodation was a mix of broken tents and in some cases tarpaulins on sticks held down by rocks. People walking around in shorts, flip flops or broken shoes and children playing with plastic bags as toys.

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The majority of refugees are teenage boys and young men in their early twenties, however there was a noticeable increase from two weeks previously (when Ruth had first visited the camp) of women and children. Also what had been a field of just 3 tents in one area of the camp, was now completely full. According to volunteers on the ground,  there are now over 6,000 people there and this is increasing every day.

We met with one of our contacts, from Leeds who is living out there providing support every day to the refugee’s. He gave us a bag full of hats and socks to take out to some of the new arrivals, before helping us distribute the items to the right collection points set up in the camp. By doing this we saw some of the people far from the roads and often the least likely to receive help. Many were stuck in the wood, ill, hungry and cold but when we distributed the hats and socks they all made sure the ones who had least got what they needed first. Once these had all been given out we delivered the a 2 cars and a van load of tents, sleeping bags and blankets to 2 different points where volunteers could hand them out to refugees on arrival to the camp.

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In the middle of all this people had started setting up shops, restaurants, libraries, as well as churches and Mosques all made out of wood and scrap. This showed a bit of hope in the camp and you can’t stop people creating communities. This hopefully makes the reality a little easier to deal with. On the other hand it worryingly shows how permanent this is becoming.

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Unfortunately for myself and a number of the convey members, this is where our trip ended and we had to head back to London. However a few of our fans and the South East London’s People to People Solidarity group stayed over for a few more days. During this time, they gave the clothes to the charities who distribute them throughout the camp and also sent food to the kitchen areas and a bought fresh food and fruit with the money donated.

Below are the thoughts of a few others on the trip to give you a broader range of experiences:

This is from David Rogers (Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust Board Member):

Requirements on the ground change rapidly in the Jungle. For example, the day before we arrived, word came through that the unforgiving Calais weather was to change so we embarked on a mission to distribute hats, gloves and socks to the two hundred or so new people who had moved into the wooded area.

Amongst the trees we found groups of happy and smiling faces who were so grateful to have a pair of socks.  After many thank yous and handshakes we went off to find the next group. Conditions were a little muddy when we got there but it had not rained for a few days. Some of the better locations for tents and structure were up on slightly higher ground.  One rain storm can wipe out an entire camping area and flood their tents with water and mud.

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The picture above is of our new friend Ibrahim and his family with one of our volunteers. Ibrahim told us his story. He fled war torn Iraq two years ago. Leaving his family in a refugee camp.  He wanted to find a better place for himself and his family.

He found a better place for himself, got a job and paid to get his family on a boat to Greece. He told us his family were on the boat that capsized and killed the little boy who washed up on the beach. They were lucky and survived and made their way to Calais.

They were refused entry to the country he had settled in and Ibrahim joined them in Calais and after two years away his little boy did not recognise him. He told us that even though conditions were bad in the Jungle, it was still better than war torn Iraq. We got him sorted with a large blanket and the next day our volunteers bought the two kids warm coats and tracksuits.

It was noticeable on our visit, that everyone we met was warm, friendly and appreciative of what we, the Trust and our supporters were doing for them.  We felt safe there but it is no doubt, a very unsafe to live for any length of time.

This is from Claire Wellard (Dulwich Fan)

I  joined a group of people taking donations collected at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club to the Calais Jungle camp. We gave the camping equipment to two sets of UK long-term volunteers who distribute supplies to new arrivals. We handed out the clothes as we walked around the camp and also located groups of people who needed whole outfits.

There are a lot of people there who are cold and hungry. Many are wearing sandals or wet shoes with no socks and have only the clothes they are wearing, which might also be wet and dirty. Some people have untreated injuries and illnesses associated with poor living conditions.

In more established parts of the camp, people have built shacks and there are shops and restaurants where they can buy food. In other areas, people are living in tents with no cooking facilities or sanitation. 

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But there is hope there too. Some residents are involved in improving the camp. We met a guy called Zimako who was litter picking. He showed us the clinic and children’s school he is helping to build. Another man called Alpha has set up an art workshop, which is next to the school where adults can learn French.

There are British volunteers staying in the camp who distribute supplies and run kitchens providing hot meals. And there were other British people who go for a few days at a time to help out. We didn’t feel in danger in the camp and I didn’t see any evidence of substance abuse. There are cops there, but I didn’t see them doing anything apart from sitting in their vans on the road next to the camp. The people were grateful for clothes, and are especially in need of gloves, socks, shoes, hats and trousers. 

Anything we can do is helpful, whether that is donating items or funds or expertise or helping to sort, transport and distribute stuff. It is easy and doesn’t require a special kind of person. 

Our group is going back to Calais on 13th-15th November. If anyone wants to come or keep in touch with what’s happening, check out SE London – People to People Solidarity Action Group. If you have camping equipment (including tents, sleeping bags, blankets, roll mats, mattresses, tarps etc) or warm and/or dry clothes and shoes that you can donate, please do it, as it will make a difference to somebody there.

Van drivers are always needed too. I needed a bit of a nudge from a friend to make the trip, but I am very glad I did it now and grateful that she encouraged me. This has shown me how easy it is for ordinary people to make a difference.

The trust, the club and its supporters have a strong record of supporting a range of issues within our local community- the food bank initiative being a great example of this. Although this is an issue further afield it’s still a comparable distance to Hamlet’s furthest away trips of the season. We also were aware that we do have a platform and that will allow us to get as much aid, donations and resource as possible to these people who are stuck there. Further to this we do also have fans who are second generation refugees and possibly other fans with similar stories, who wouldn’t be with us today if it wasn’t for the help of people at the time.

Positively, with the huge amount of donations we were actually able to give something back to people who are in need here at home as well, foodbanks and local charity shops, more than a whole a van load. But whether people are here or out there, we are all humans and this is a humanitarian crisis that we felt needed to be responded to.

Having seen it all first hand and not just through hear say or the newspapers, this is needed. These people aren’t just out there for fun. It’s grim, really grim.

The worse thing about leaving was knowing that this is going to continue and only going to get worse with winter coming. And with no major plans from government or charities to help people in the camps I dread to think what’s in store for the people of Calais and across Europe.

But with people getting involved there is a bit of hope and the smallest thing will still make a difference even if it is to one person. Amazingly we still have some donations to take and will be going back out on the weekend of the 14th November.

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Team Calais

One of the most amazing experience’s about this whole thing, other than the people we met out there and what I have described above, was the huge amount of people in the community who got involved and I’m not just talking about the family we have here at Dulwich Hamlet FC but the wider community who came for the day to help sort or drop off donations. It never fails to amaze me what people can achieve when they work together to help other people and I for one am proud Dulwich Hamlet could be leading on this.

A few thank yous:

  • The fans who made the trip: Amin Haque, Claire Wellard, Nisha Damji, Kiren Lall and David Rogers
  •  Tomasso (from Clapton FC) who drove the big van at short notice
  •  Ruth and Nick from The People to Peoples Solidarity Group who helped make sure this was done correctly and came on the trip with us .
  • The club committee who allowed us to store donations at the club and were on hand day and night to help out with requests. Special thanks go out to Mishi Morath, Liam Hickey and Paul Griffin.
  • Hadley’s, the clubs owner, who paid for this trip’s travel, making sure we actually got there.
  • Big Yellow Storage who gave us free storage.
  • Global Freight Solutions who helped us with early logistics
  • To everyone who came out to help sort, I don’t know what we would have done without you, your contribution was vital.  And of course to everyone who donated or gave financially.

The work isn’t going to stop here but thank you all.  If you wish to help us out on our return trip next month you can donate here.  Every bit helps us help the camp residents.

If you want to chat any further please contact the club or say hello at the game.

Jack Spearman – Community Lead – Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust Board

We are keeping records of our spending of your donations. This will be updated regularly. please click the link below to see what we have spent so far.

Calais Expenses