Eastbourne offers precious gift of hope to the desperate

Helen Burton pictured with the caravan she wants to donate to the camp
Helen Burton pictured with the caravan she wants to donate to the camp

Harrowing and distressing images of refugees fleeing from conflicts overseas have dominated the newspapers and television news reports in recent days.

And here in Eastbourne, communities are rallying round to help those who are trying to build new lives for themselves and their families in Europe.

Eastbourne Borough Council says it too will play its part in supporting Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for the UK to offer refuge to families fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Council leader David Tutt said, “The council will play its part in what is a distressing, complex and rapidly evolving situation.

“Last week I signed a petition calling on the Prime Minister to take urgent action.

“We are now waiting to see how support arrangements will be developed by the government and will respond to these plans in the most expedient way possible.

“As information updates become available we will share these with residents.”

Donations of food, clothing and shelter – including a second hand caravan – are also to be sent across to refugee camps in Calais in the coming weeks after a huge rise in donations here in the town.

Sienna Davids and Marcie Clarke are behind the setting up of Facebook group Calais Refugee Support and Donations - Eastbourne.

As well as helping to establish the local group, Marcie has travelled out to Calais several times to help with relief work.

She said, “News is flying around that they are full and asking for no more donations but this is a very short-term storage problem.

“It is crucial we keep collecting as winter is fast approaching and we need to keep the supply consistent.”

The group has had a huge number of donations from people in Eastbourne and local businesses, The Dolphin Pub and Sobriquet Lingerie, both in South Street, have been helping to store the goods in their basements.

Rachel Ainsley, landlady of The Dolphin, said the number of donations has been “overwhelming” over the weekend.

“We’ve had four-man tents and all sorts,” said Rachel.

“So many people have got involved and there was a big uptake over Saturday and Sunday.”

The group is now hoping to get together a number of volunteers to go out to the Calais camp on September 26.

More than 100 volunteers are expected to make the journey to help support humanitarian work at the camp.

Elsewhere in the area, a Pevensey Bay councillor is donating a renovated caravan to the Calais camp.

Helen Burton, a parish councillor, is planning to paint and repair her old caravan before donating it to help aid on the other side of the Channel.

Helen said, “It could be used to house a family or as a distribution centre for food and other donations. I was going to sell it but with everything going on in the news, I’d much rather it was used as accommodation or a distribution centre. “It all seems like something has changed in the last week.

“No matter what your opinions are on migration, people are realising how bad things are.

“I’ve been amazed at the response. I’ve had 10 people offering their help to paint the caravan and I had a guy – a complete stranger – come and help us move the caravan into a place where we could work on it too.”

Helen has also received support from Eastbourne B&Q, which donated more than £120 worth of paint for the project.

The caravan will be towed out to Calais by Dayn Clark of Wot a Waste, an Eastbourne-based waste removal company.

Helen said, “We also need someone who knows about caravans to check it’s roadworthy.

“It’s not that old so I expect it will be OK but I wanted to check first. I want to go out there and see what they are doing out there for myself.”

One couple from Eastbourne, John Carey and his wife Melanie Torres, recently travelled to the Calais camp with a car full of donations from around the town.

Before making the journey, Melanie and John contacted several volunteer groups working in the camp who put them in touch with Francois and Maya – a French couple who help run the camp’s aid stations.

John said, “I’m very grateful for everybody doing what they can. It’s quite refreshing.”

Since returning from the camp John and Melanie have been giving advice to others planning to travel

John urges anyone planning to take goods over to make contact with groups already helping to organise humanitarian aid in the camp to avoid making aid more difficult.

John said. “Under no circumstances should people just turn up with donations. People need to get in touch with those organising the camp, like Francois and Maya, before going there.

“They know who is most needed in terms of supplies and how to make sure they get it. It is great people are helping but they need to go through the proper channels.

“It wasn’t at all what I was expecting when we arrived.

“I was expecting to feel afraid or be made unwelcome but it wasn’t like that at all - it’s definitely not lawless. People were nice and polite to us.

Melanie said, “It is a really calm place, but there is a sense of desperation as well.

“One woman actually begged us to take her two-year-old child back to the uk, I can’t even begin to comprehend her desperation.”

The woman asked the couple to bring her young son to the UK in the hope of securing a better future for the child.

The camp is thought to be home to more than 3,000 people from around the world, many fleeing war zones in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Communities of migrants from the Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea as well as a number of other countries live in the camp.

These communities have established “mini-countries” where they have begun to improve their surroundings helping to build a school, shops, restaurants and several places of worship including the church which appeared on BBC Songs of Praise in August.

John said he and Melanie did meet two young men from Pakistan who were actively trying to get to the UK. They had both studied in England at Leeds University.

“They studied for their doctorates in politics here before returning to Pakistan,” he said.

“They supported Imran Khan but are at risk of death if they stay in Pakistan.

“These men would be an asset to our country, we paid for their education and they would die if they returned to their own country.”

As politicians debated the issue of the refugee crisis in Parliament this week, Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell said she was pleased the government is pledging to do more about what she called “a devastating humanitarian crisis”.

“I am proud that Britain is a moral nation who fulfils her moral responsibilities,” she said. “We lead Europe in giving aid overseas, but last week we fell behind Europe in giving shelter to those seeking refuge from a terror that has forced them to gamble with their lives to escape.

“As a nation we were in a position to offer sanctuary to refugees in greater number and I wrote to the Prime Minister to that effect.

“As a result, we have now announced we will resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees during the course of this Parliament. Those we offer refuge to will come directly from the camps in and around Syria and the Middle East to discourage refugees from taking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean that has cost so many their lives in recent months.

“Giving refuge is only part of the solution to this crisis.

“We need a comprehensive strategy that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: be it Assad in Syria, ISIS and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people – we have to be as tough on them at the same time.

“The United Kingdom has a proud tradition for providing shelter to those in need, and has always been a bastion of liberty, security and tolerance and ever may that be.”

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1 Make our website your homepage at www.eastbourneherald.co.uk

2 Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/eastbourne.herald

3 Follow us on Twitter @Eastbournenews

4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

The Eastbourne Herald - always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.