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In August we informed you that RAY’s Chair Sally Bourton and her husband John were going to spend a week in September in Calais volunteering for the charity Care4Calais. Here’s their summary of what is happening there.

‘We are back from a week volunteering for Care4Calais, our third visit, the last was in January this year. There don’t seem to be many changes here – just more of the same. There are almost no women and children, we think they have gone to Dunkirk where the Mayor opened up a gymnasium for 200 refugees and a camp grew up around it with many more. Unfortunately they are being moved out this week to different places in France. Other changes are that there is much less to distribute compared to our last visit, the warehouse is not nearly as well stocked; also that there are more refugees from Western African countries than before.

Being here is truly an exercise in mindfulness or at least keeping a very narrow focus, we can’t think of their future and what will happen to them, we just get on with the task in hand. There are regular distributions in the afternoons in Calais and also in Dunkirk, Brussels and monthly in Paris. One afternoon, we distributed clothing on a site largely made up of Eritreans. They were fabulous – warm, friendly, they mostly spoke good English and they looked fantastic – they take a great pride in their appearance and the barbers sets that we take out each time are in great demand. They somehow managed to look like young men about to go out on the town. How they do this is an absolute mystery to me, how they keep smiling.

The CRS (the French riot police) were also going to move out a lot of refugees from one site on Calais, they put up notices in different languages on the site to the effect that they would be coming on Monday 9th September but by Thursday had still not done so. The refugees were very dispirited, unsure where to move to or when the CRS will arrive – it’s as much a torment as the being moved.

We enjoyed meeting the volunteers – many are students at University but we even had three from a 6th form college, so very young – as well as the refugees. We are, it has to be said, much older than the volunteers but we enjoyed our ‘grandparenting’ role and the friendships we made.

The refugees are mostly upbeat, the number of successful boats arriving on the English beaches has lifted spirits – though not for those who cannot pay. For others, we have heard that a lorry trip costs around £700 each – cheaper than the boats but more than most can afford. Hearing some of their stories was very hard – the woman who described herself as half Ethiopian and half Eritrean, who had travelled from home on her own; the man who had left West Africa through many countries including Libya and the terrible violence he encountered there; the Iranian who had been travelling for some years and still had not got a visa. And yet they smile and say thank you for the offer of a cup of tea or coffee. How do they do this?’

Support to Care4Calais continues to be essential – both goods, cash and volunteers, and this is their website :