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Suffocating refugees in lorries, what’s changed?

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.


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:

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.



Love in the Language of Yarn

Back in October I decided I’d try knitting again after several thousand years of not knitting.  That’s a lie, I had been knitting a scarf for 5 years!  So, this winter I enjoyed revisiting proper knitting, spent a few evenings drooling over patterns on Ravelry, spending money on yarn, needles etc and trying to work out to keep it all tidy when I wasn’t knitting.    I started of very easily and knitted Mark and Jo some fingerless mittens, I knitted myself some and gave them to a colleague at Restos who’s need was greater than mine.  I knitted (attempted) to knit a skull cap for Mark, and ended up making several.  I have some beautiful hanks of yarn left over and have just come across a charitable project to help me use them.

Love in the language of yarn is a charity set up to attempt to help children (and adults of course ) warm in Syria.

‘Lily’ is supported by businesses and individuals in Turkey, whether it be donations of yarn, Knitting and Crocheting or transportation of completed blankets to receiving agencies.
‘Lily’ has no paid employees.  All the good work is done on a strictly volunteer basis.
‘Lily’ wishes to thank all those private individuals and businesses which support us.  Without you, there would be no ‘Lily’ – Love In the Language of Yarn.  We work hard for the day when we are no longer needed to help keep Children warm.

I have been brought to tears several times recently when seeing the terrible conditions Syrian refugees are being subjected to.  Some how it is all the more distressing knowing that they cannot escape, they cannot go and warm themselves somewhere, wander through a shopping mall for some distraction. visit a neighbour who has heat, light and food.  They are besieged, they are freezing, they are gradually starving to death.

Syria crisis: A Palestinian plea from Yarmouk refugee camp

“Please, please take us out, we are dying here,” 60-year-old Wafiqa pleads, sobbing uncontrollably as she cradles her lined face in rough gnarled hands.

She stumbles toward us in her grief, toward anyone she thinks can rescue her from the punishing eight-month siege of Yarmouk, a devastated Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus.

Just behind her, a tide of hundreds of people presses against a security barrier. Armed men struggle to contain a crowd desperate to reach a UN food distribution point at the end of a narrow rutted road that cuts through a desolate wasteland of utter ruin.

“I’m so tired, so tired,” one woman cries out.

I’ve just watch the first video on the BBC link again, it is so distressing.

I discovered after seeing the video for the first time (and seeing that only 60 tiny food parcels had been delivered that day), that there are people doing things, desperately trying to do their bit and to help.

Trucks on there way to Syria with much needed aid.

So now I am knitting squares, and will knit squares until my yarn is gone, and then I will source more yarn.  I am collecting our hats, gloves, scarves, and will be packing up a parcel today to start helping in a very small way.  (I’ve spent rather a lot of money this month (don’t tell Mark) so cannot donate money right now, but I will do. Some of you who are keen on rainbows and what that signifies nowadays, could knit some rainbow squares 🙂  If you decide to knit and send parcels, please take note of this piece of info, it’s very important.

Mark the parcels – ‘Small packet, knitting for charity, No commercial value’and keep weight to 2 kg (4.4 pounds) or under. On the customs declaration please keep value to  a minimum amount.

If you read further down there is a comment from a lady who’s parcel is stuck in customs because it is too heavy.  That would be such a waste, to do all you can and not get your parcel beyond customs.


Altruism or is it?

I was going to write something about altruism, and thought I’d better check the definition.  Having checked,  I have discovered that’s not what I want to write about.  So, I have to find another way express what I want to say. Maybe I want to dig around a little in unselfish acts, or charitable behaviour or kindness.   I guess those words are less precise, but they are what I mean.

I inherited a small amount of money a couple of months ago.   Now, even that sentence is relative.  What is small to me may not be small to others.   In my family of origin, it’s actually large.  However, in my husband’s family, and in our experience as a couple, it’s small.

Anyhow, I inherited a sum of money, and had been waiting for some time to be in a position to loan a small amount to help others.  So, not giving, but lending.   I’d read about Kiva and had been interested yet not in a financial position to lend.    I felt really good being able to do this finally, and lent about $120 spread over 4 people.  In fact, it’s very little, but it’s something.

I invited friends to look, and was surprised (I am naive) that some were somewhat cynical.  I agree, it’s possible some of the money may line the pockets of the money lenders, it’s quite possible.  I also know that when I give to charity, for instance the recent Horn of Africa appeal, that possibly some of my money will not make it to where it should. But, it doesn’t stop me. Why does it stop others?

At various times during my working life, I have made monthly charitable donations, and now I am not able to do this.
So I am pleased now to be helping others in some way.

There is a news item today about funding to charities in UK being reduced or withdrawn.

One of the interviewee’s said that during economic decline, many of the charities are in greater demand. Relate, for instance, will see higher demand from couples coping with job losses and the consequent strain on married and family life.

I should acknowledge, I am observing all this from my safe place, behind the gate, outside The Asylum….and I am very happy to be doing that at this time. So, for now….please let me know what you think stops people giving, apart from not having enough themselves.

Thanks for reading and please make sure you close the gate on your way out.

Kathy the Sane