In late summer 2015 we were all horrified when a lorry parked on the hard shoulder of a motorway in Austria was opened to discover 71 YES 71 suffocated and decomposing refugees inside. One of those bodies who’d died an indescribable death was a baby girl and 4 bodies were of children.
Only 4 days later Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body was washed up on a beach in Turkey whilst we were still reeling from shock of the earlier story.
What did we do at that point? How did we react after the initial feelings of shock, despair and utter impotence.
I know what I did. I spent the next 7 months doing my best to make a difference. Had I been 20 years younger I would have made several sorties to Calais, Dunkirk and the beaches of Greece. I would have helped pull people from the water, I would have held dead children and babies and would have questioned every minute the total fucking lack of guts our politicians have. I have only actually been able to do the last bit and the physical things I have had to leave to those younger and more able.
So, what’s changed. Over 7 months on, babies and children are still being washed up drowned on beaches, 1000’s of unaccompanied children are missing all over the war zones and Europe and in France 150 have been lost since the Southern End of the Calais refugee camp was bulldozed, burned and razed to the ground in the most violent manner by those acting on the orders of France? The Fascist Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart? who knows.
On Thursday of last week the incredible Liz Clegg from the Calais refugee camp received a text from a 7 year old Afghan boy who was stuck inside a lorry in services on the M1 in the UK! He wouldn’t have had the phone if it weren’t for her and he wouldn’t have had credit on his phone had it not been for the amazing humans I have come to know in the last 7 months who have donated money, raised money and work tirelessly to do the best they can for these fellow human beings.
HELP REFUGEES STATEMENT RE: 7 YEAR OLD SAVED FROM SUFFOCATION IN BACK OF LORRY
On Thursday 7th April Ahmed, a young refugee boy from Afghanistan who had been living in the Calais camp, stowed away on a truck from France to the UK and found himself trapped in a locked cabin and fast losing the ability to breathe. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to send an urgent text to Liz Clegg and Inca Sorrel from ‘unofficial’ Women and Children’s Centre in the Calais Camp and they, together with Help Refugees, were able to set the wheels in motion for an emergency response which ultimately saved the life of the boy and the other 14 refugees stowed away in the back of the lorry with him.
The saving of 7 year old Ahmed’s life is partly down to the fast response from the emergency services, partly down to this young child’s ability to convey the severity of his situation but very much down to the fact that Liz and Inca had given him a mobile phone, with credit and emergency numbers and had drilled into him the importance of contacting them if he was in any kind of danger.
Ahmed is just one of hundreds of vulnerable children that The Women and Children’s Centre have provided with phones in this way to ensure the smallest kind of safeguarding. But it’s not enough. Last week 17 year old Mohammed was killed on a truck in Britain, just 14 miles from David Cameron’s home, and in January 15 year old Masud met his death in the back of a refrigerated lorry in France. How many children must die risking their lives on trucks, train tracks or in the hands of traffickers before the French and British governments, the UNHCR and the child focused charities respond and put adequate measures in place to ensure their protection?
Help Refugees urges the authorities to create a proper registration system for the unaccompanied minors in Calais and Dunkirk and to put it into immediate effect.
In the meantime we will continue to provide humanitarian aid to these children in the form of shelter, clothing and sustenance and we will continue to support the extraordinary efforts of the volunteer led Women and Children’s Centre and the Youth Centre in Calais who work daily with the unaccompanied minors and give them sanctuary, trusted guidance and care.
Please sign this petition asking the Government to reunite children in the EU with their families in the UK as a matter of urgency:https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/126845
What would have happened had these refugees been found suffocated and decomposing on the M1, on UK soil? Anything different? There was a time when I would have believed that finally the politicians would be motivated to do something finally to improve the lives of refugees, men, women, children and babies fleeing war. I now know that hell would have to freeze over before that happens.
This last few months I have met and got to know some amazing people. People willing to put themselves on the front line and make a difference. Some of them I have worried for as they take more care of others than themselves. Some of them I have worried for as I watch them working more hours than they should, more days than they should to make things work, to make a difference and to give their all to their fellow human beings. Ordinary people like you and I becoming heroes, acting heroically and being so incredibly creative.
Here are some examples. Shropshire Loves Community Interest (includes Caravans for Calais and Mobile Crisis Support Vehicles) all set up by Lea Beven (one day she’ll sleep!) Rob Lawrie who did what many of us would have been tempted to do and got caught. His humanity knew no bounds and destroyed his marriage. He was taken to court in France and thankfully was spared jail. The Dirty Girls of Lesvos Island who wash and launder all the clothes that the wet and bedraggled refugees discard as they land on the beaches of Lesvos, meaning there are clean and laundered clothes to hand on to newly arrived refugees. They launder all the UNHCR blankets (having been recalled by the military who couldn’t manage the same workload). Spanish Lifeguards who went to help last autumn and didn’t go home! At one point early this year they were arrested and faced charges people smuggling as they’d strayed into Turkish waters to save the refugees on a sinking rubber dinghy.
Many other thinking outside the box and when that box doesn’t work out they invent another. I have been honoured to be a very tiny part of this and sometimes I’ve only been able to send them money. I have trusted people I have never met, sent them money and people I have never met have trusted me too with their money.
So….what has changed? Anything? Is the crisis improving? Despite all the above, I don’t feel it is. What about you. What moved you to make a difference? What are you doing you weren’t doing 7 months ago?
Thanks to the individuals who physically attend the places I am unable to: Thanks Roni, Sarah and Maeve.
Oh and Luscious Lesley….how could I forget.