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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.
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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.
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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.

 

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The barbarism of UK and France

We are all quick to shout and exclaim outrage when someone is beheaded by one of those Barbaric countries where beheading is still their form of punishment yet at least that death is quick.  We know of course that they are not always deserved punishments and that this post is not about the politics of that.

This post is about a much slower form of punishment, a much slower death being meted out to 1000’s of people on the shores of Europe.  I can only knowledgeably talk about what is happening in Calais and in Dunkirk and since both France and UK are well known to me, I will stick with the evidence from these two countries.  These people do not need to be punished by the way….they have fled that.

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The police in Dunkirk have recently stopped volunteers from entering the camp with building materials, new tents, sleeping bags and basically many of the things that are needed to manage this mess (Dunkirk, France early January). This is after a few days of wind and rain (and heaven knows what happened last night).

I am informed by the Sub Prefect for the area that the actions of the police are to manage the people smuggling.  I do not believe this for one moment.   He informs me that they are doing everything they can to help these people claim asylum blah blah.   The problem is, many of the people here want to join their families in the UK, so claiming asylum in France is not conducive to that.   The leaders we are all reliant upon use the Dublin Regulation to insist that asylum is sought in the country you first enter (ie enter and make application).  The refugees sitting on the edge of the channel want to claim asylum in UK, not France, so would scupper any happy ever after with their family if there leave the camps.  Germany and Czech republic suspended Dublin regulations last year in respect of Syrian refugees yet the UK still refuses to budge.

Left to themselves, France won’t develop a plan to prevent people coming and risking their lives trying to cross.

Almost nightly police and CRS throw tear gas into the Jungle.  Many, many of the refugees have fled war and they are now in another war zone.

Be In Their Shoes

Cameron must take control of this and not build more fences.  My knowledge of both countries is that one is reactive and one has been known to be proactive.  Hollande needs leading….he is too weak and naive to manage this (and too stubborn and blind to know this).  I cannot believe I am looking to Cameron to be the saviour but it is down to him ultimately.

So please, stop being outraged by beheadings and what you consider barbarism…..unless of course you want to include the atrocities on your door step in that outrage.

How many family deaths can a woman endure.

We have just returned from a week in the UK attending two funerals, two ends of England, 24 hours apart.

One of those funerals was my aunt, aged about 92 and the last of my late father’s siblings.  I am relieved she’s now no longer suffering and here I’ll explain why.

In 1960, she lost her mother, I think my aunt would have been around 40.  In 1970 she lost her father, she aged 50. I am sure many find themselves in this situation as we grow older, and we expect that at some point in our lives to lose our parents, it’s normal.

In 1978, she lost her husband, in 1980 she lost a grandchild aged 6 months,  in 1983 she lost her youngest son, aged approx 28.  In 1997 she lost her 2nd oldest daughter to cancer, aged 48. In 1999 she lost her brother aged 80.  In 2003 she lost her youngest daughter, aged 42 to cancer.   In 2010 she lost her 2nd husband and her last remaining brother (my Dad) a year later in 2011.

That’s 10 close family deaths in 53 years, 3 of them her mature children.  How does one survive that, what is life like after all that pain and suffering.

My cousin is the last of the 4 children, the last of my age group  and has lost everything but her own children and grandchildren.  I felt so sad for her at her mum’s funeral, and wondered how she has coped with losing so all of her family of origin.  I wondered how she felt attending yet another family funeral and how of course she dreads each one.  She has children and grandchildren but that doesn’t make up for the loss of her whole original family.  I am very lucky, my first experience of death of a close family member was my dad’s death nearly 2 years ago.  He was nearly 95, it was normal.

Whilst I was lamenting yesterday about our horrible journey home through appalling weather, my cousin was attending an interment of the ashes, alongside her father, brother, sister and grandchild.

If there was a god, and it was a god who punished, I would be wondering what the hell they had done to deserve such punishment.  God or no god doesn’t explain why one family can suffer so much loss, heartbreak and grief.

So, RIP Aunty Dot, I am so pleased that you’re gone….and regret I cannot comfort myself in the knowledge that you have joined your loved ones.

I hate the effing asylum and will be keeping the gate shut for a few days whilst we recover.

 

 

Thinking about my Dad.

I’ve been thinking about my Dad over the last few days, probably because I have a horrible cold, and I was similarly ill just after he died in March. It’s interesting how many memories have come back to me at this time.

Dad died on 18th March 2011, and would have been 95 had he managed 3 more days. As it stands, he didn’t want to stay for his 95th birthday. He’d been admitted to hospital about 10 days before, and been diagnosed with an aortic stenosis. Unsurprisingly, he should have been far more symptomatic than he was, and as usual had managed to hide how ill he was until he was very ill. For nearly a year, he and mum had been living in a local nursing home and after a few months of recuperation from his decline in health, was organising their life again, making plans and bossing friends around. Life was picking up after the shock of being admitted to a nursing home, he was feeling freer and had ordered several large WW2 books to read. For the last 3 months he’d been walking across to the local shops unaided, although taking his Zimmer with wheels to carry the shopping back. He got back some of the control of his life that was so important to him.

He was discharged from hospital, but with the knowledge that he would be far less active and would be more or less room/home bound, he was not happy with this. However, as was his norm, he appeared to rally, and seemed determined to fight this new setback. I remember arriving at the nursing home and standing at the nurses desk discussing him. He walked up with his walking stick, shaved, washed and dressed and thinking, he’s going to beat this, as he has done in the past. There is a photo of him sitting in his room, in his chair, dressed but looking like a shadow of himself, eyes closed and frail. This is the last time he was dressed before he died.

This rally was short lived and I am trying to remember what came first, his anger at being so restricted, or his illness restricting him. Either way, he became very frustrated and angry and told Mark that he didn’t want to go on like this. It was around this time I recall he began to show signs of being in an altered reality.
Most likely caused by his organs beginning to break down. At one point after he’d drifted off for a few seconds, he asked who’d ordered the firing squad. This not only was distressing for him, but for us too. We didn’t want him to be dreaming/hallucinating such horrible and frightening images.

He wasn’t getting much sleep, my sister and I sat with him all night, and he was constantly pulling at the bed sheet to help him sit up as he needed to use the toilet. Eventually he’s given a sleeping tablet and this knocks him out for 16 hours! When he finally wakes, at around 05h30, he whispers to my sister that he wants “red”. She manages to work out that he means red wine. So, despite the sun and yard arm being some way off, we open a bottle of red and pour him some. He takes the smallest of sips and screws up his face. He continues to be restless on and off now, and a prescription for a short acting sedative is ordered. I had been checking with him frequently whether he was in pain, as he frequently screwed up his face, but his reply each time was, “No, no pain”.

Over the next 48 hours Dad is sedated, the sedation wears off after about 3 hours and he can have another injection at that point. I have been concerned that we had taken steps to help his passing, and often reflect on this last 48 hours. However, I am assured that he was already very ill, it had been his desire to let go now, and his GP would not have ordered the meds unless this was appropriate. Between us, me, my sister and Mark we spent the last 3 days and nights at his bedside, and on the morning of 18th March, my mum and sister were with him as he died.

Since his death, Jo my daughter and I have retyped his book between us which for me was an incredibly cathartic experience, despite having read the book at least twice before. I have also been blogging his letters home as a POW also a cathartic and revealing experience for me. I’m not sure how I will feel when I come to the end of the blog. I have some way to go yet, but it will end.

My sister and her husband bought mum and dad’s bungalow and are currently rebuilding it and turning it into a house. I have/had no desire to live here, so am pleased that she is. My only slight blip came when she told me, out of the blue (she is not a sensitive type) that she scattered dad’s ashes there, beneath a tree he’d planted. This information took me by surprise and I was began to cry as she told me. She completely missed that I was crying and carried on talking, c’est la vie!

I am surprised it’s nearly 10 months ago and that it won’t be long before it is the anniversary of his death.
His younger sister is all who remain of that generation of his family, she’s made of strong stuff. Mum still lives in the nursing home, she managed quite well when he was dying and when he died (she has dementia) and appeared to act appropriately for much of that time. However, without him there to prompt and guide her and fill in the gaps, she’s become far more confused and disjointed. She seems to have forgotten he died and often wonders where he is. She doesn’t appear distressed, but just thinks he’s gone away somewhere.