No one could fail to be aware of the appalling situation that refugees are currently facing in refugee camps in northern France such as Callais and Dunkerque.
Thousands of Syrian, Kurdish, Sudanese, Eritean, Vietnamese and Iraqui children and adults are living in squalid conditions without even their most basic needs being met.
Many people across the world have donated money and supplies to help. Some people have gone one step further by travelling to such refugee camps to volunteer.
One such person is Sara Wheeler, a mum of two sons from Bristol. Sara volunteers for Aid Box Convoy, a team of volunteers who co-ordinate, deliver and distribute aid to refugee camp in northern France and which was founded by two Bristol parents last year named Imogen Mcintosh and Joby Andrews.
In September last year, along with 27 volunteers and 8 trucks of aid and supplies for refugees, Aid Box Convoy made its first trip to the refugee camp at Dunkerque.
Tomorrow, Sara will be making her second trip with Aid Box Convoy to the refugee camp at Dunkerque to volunteer for four days.
This week I visited Sara at her home in Ashley Down to meet her and to find out more about the work that Aid Box Convoy is doing. Sara described how she made her first trip to camp with Aid Box Convoy to Dunkerque in November.
The experience is one that she will never forget.
The conditions Sara describes to me are truly horrific:
- There are currently 3,000 people at the camp yet there are only 30 toilets. As a result of not having enough toilets, people and children have nowhere else to urinate and defecate but outside their tents (this is where people cook).
- Because the camp has no drainage or infrastructure, the already boggy ground is a swamp of body waste and mud. There are rats on the camp due to such conditions and because there are rats there is now Viles disease amongst the people living there.
- 80% of the people on the camp are hypothermic. Dysentery and diarrhoea are rife. There is now also a strong risk of Legion Airs Disease.
- Due to the close contact of people, lack of clean clothes (there are no washing machines) or washing facilities, 100% of people on camp have Scabies, a highly infectious skin condition.
- There is no medical care beyond the paracetamol yet Sara describes seeing people with head injuries, angina and more.
- There is no adequate shelter. The 2-person and 3-person tents which often house entire families are often leaking, flooded and even flattened by the recent severe wind and rain in Dunkerque.
In Sara’s warm kitchen in Ashley Down, she shows me the crates of supplies that will be taken with her to Dunkerque tomorrow. As well as warm blankets, tarpaulin, tents and clothes, supplies include items such as matches, tin openers, torches, nit combs, shoes, food, waterproof clothing: all essential items needed by people on the camp.
Sara explains how ‘every single penny goes to refugees’. Not only this but every penny donated or raised for Aid Box Convoy is used wisely.
Sare gives an example of how a single £50 donation was used in the Dunkerque camp in October. It was decided that £40 would be spent on a wheel-barrow as this would enable more tents being distributed to refugees faster and more efficiently and that the remaining £10 went on waterproofs for refugees.
Sara describes a day on camp for Aid Box Convoy volunteers:
First thing in the morning they clean the six toilets on camp (as you can imagine 30 toilets on a camp of 3,000 people become filthy very quickly).
Following the cleaning of the toilets, Sara and the other volunteer’s next task is to go round the tents, checking in on people. The team makes a lists of people who are in need of medical help or have leaky tents.
Another task of ABC volunteers is to meet other volunteers coming into the camp with supplies. There are not enough supplies for the amount of people on camp so it is vital that new volunteers are briefed and advised on where to distribute supplies.
With not enough supplies for 3,000 people it is essential supplies are distributed wisely and given to the people most in need. Sara describes how volunteers coming to camp with aid are swamped on arrival with hoards of refugees begging for supplies to be given to them.
However, it is not a case of who shouts the loudest at the front of the crowd who is prioritised in being given aid but rather the opposite; it is the people who can’t shout nor reach the front of the crowd such as the old, the sick and the young.
The work of the Aid Box Convoy volunteers goes beyond the co-ordination, delivery and distribution of aid to refugees; As Sara explains “it’s also about human contact, spending time with the refugees, hearing their story and acknowledging them”.
If you would like to help Sara and the team at Aid Box Convoy, here is a list of ways in which you can do so:
- Aid box convoy desperately need volunteers willing to travel to Dunkerque, especially volunteers from Monday to Friday
- Fund raising is always needed – coffee mornings, school non-uniform days, cake sales and more
- Solicitors are needed who have experience of immigration and human rights issues, as well as the asylum process
- People who can speak Kurdish, Arabic or Farsi
- Volunteers with time to spare to assist with sourcing, collecting and sorting supplies
- Therapists for clinical supervision for the long-term volunteers
- Donations are needed and every single penny is put to good use so please donate any spare change that you have to Aid Box Convoy
If you can help in any of the ways above, please contact Aid Box Convoy via the following ways:
For more information about Aid Box Convoy, please visit http://www.aidboxconvoy.co.uk/