A couple from Eastbourne have travelled to the Calais Migrant camp with supplies donated from around the town.
Melanie Torres and husband John Carey received an overwhelming number of donations from people in Eastbourne for their journey to the camp on Thursday August 27.
While in the camp, known as the Calais Jungle, the couple met with other volunteers including Maya and Francois a french couple who help organise aid at the camp and Riaz an unofficial local guide.
John said, “It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I felt really safe there. I was expecting to feel afraid or be made unwelcome but it wasn’t like that at all. I think I would have felt safe walking there at night – it’s definitely not lawless.
“People were nice and polite to us, even after the food was gone they carried on being nice to us so it wasn’t down to that.”
Melanie said, “I’m still processing it, it was so shocking.”
“John was walking ahead with Riaz while I was hanging back taking photos, I felt totally safe there.
“It is a really calm place, but there is a sense of desperation as well.
“One woman actually begged us to take her 2 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 warzones in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
A camp in Calais has existed in some form for more than 15 years but numbers at this new camp have grown rapidly since opening last April seeing humanitarian resources at the camp stretched increasingly thin.
John said, “The biggest impression I got was how even though the camp is split up into communities from different countries they all seem to get on. There seems to be a sort of calm community but with this feeling of despair.”
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 continued, “The other thing that really stood out was how almost all of the people in the camp weren’t trying to come to the UK. Most of them were wanting to stay in France but were waiting on there until their [asylum] papers came through.
“There were some who were actively trying to come to the UK but most – like the Syrians – wanted to stay in France as they speak French.
“We 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. 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.”
The couple’s experience of at the camp have left them concerned by the public perception of the camp, which they say is at odds with their own experience.
Melanie said, “So much of what is said about the place is just plain wrong – a few days ago I saw a story about how 2,000 or 3,000 people had tried to storm the gates when it was only around 300. I’m not saying it didn’t happen but the papers just exaggerate things.
“There are stories about how IS (Islamic State) are in the camp, These are the people running away from IS!
“It just makes me angry how you hear all these scare stories. There are always people helping like Maya and Francois this French Couple from Calais. There are English People coming over all the time but you don’t hear anything about it.”
For more information on volunteering in Calais visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromUK/
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