Before we begin, I’d like you to have a look at the original homes of the Syrian refugees in this drone footage acquired by The Independent.
Hopefully that has taken the wind out of a few sails, and serves as an adequate response to comments by the Bishop of Derby at the Belper meeting on Syria and refugees, that Syrian people needed to be encouraged to stay behind and work to improve their country. To be fair to the Bishop, it is a common suggestion, from people who know absolutely nothing about current events.
So that is where people are coming from. Now they are desperate and dumped across Europe, unwanted and largely unhelped by authorities. The UK has been especially callous by saying that it will only take 20,000 over the next five years. 20 people will come to the Mid Derby constituency. I’ve personally fielded more requests to offer rooms to refugees than the government are letting come here. We, the people, are not as cold as the powers that pretend to be doing something whilst mostly filling in paperwork and making sure that the health and safety is all tickety boo.
Since the last collection at No. 28 we have had a lot going on in the Solidarity movement. Solidarity sprang up all at once, late last year, in response to the crisis. It exists across the East Midlands in four sections:
LE Solidarity – Leicester
DE Solidarity – Derby City
EM Solidarity – East Midlands
AV Solidarity – Amber Valley
For those who don’t know, Amber Valley Solidarity formed in one night as DE Solidarity arranged their first collection but there was a lot of struggle to transport, to connect and to organise for this area. So Suzie Rees, Charlotte Craddock and I got the first collection done in about 24 hours. It wasn’t much but we got it over to Derby and joined up with DE Solidarity for a first delivery. Since then, the connections we have made and the interest that has built has kept a steady stream of donations coming in without a third big collection. But here we are…bring on Saturday…no really…bring stuff to us on Saturday. We’ve got a list.
The last few months have seen great change and great hardship within the refugee situation. EM Solidarity volunteers have returned traumatised by the horrors of Dunkerque. Pete Anderson said, ” It’s an absolute disgrace that people live here at all, let alone in Europe, let alone literally across the road from nice houses, with a retail park round the corner. It’s deeply traumatic just knowing its there… yet the humanity I encountered is beyond belief.”
Pete also talked about The Jungle, shortly before it was bulldozed, his words revealing both the humanity that seems to be so absent from public debate and the difficulties that Solidarity experience in getting shelter to the refugees;
“The four Iraqi boys who had arrived that day that I helped put a tent up, on a base of a palettes, so happy to be there, so grateful, so resourceful – and not a hint of treating Cathy, or the female Aid Box Convoy volunteers with any less respect or equality; “Why did you leave I asked?”. They mimed a machine gun. “Daesh” (ISIS) they replied;
And Mohammed. 16 years old, again from Iraq. He has become the camp liaison for the people living around him due to his grasp of English, which he developed from watching the BBC channel they get in Iraq. Telling us how Daesh had replaced the horrors of life as a Kurd under Sadaam Hussain. He helped us take some bottles of water to the central kitchen tent, telling us off for carrying too much then trying to carry even more, so I had to take some off him… then inviting us all for dinner, so sorry that we couldn’t as we had to leave;
People waiting months and months for their asylum applications to be processed, whether they were applying for France, or had family in the UK, so should be accepted – they still have to spend months living in mud and tents through the winter. And it’s still an improvement on where they’ve come from;
They don’t want to come to the UK for benefits. They want to go back home. But their lives have been destroyed, and they can speak English, many of them have family over here, and they have this view of the UK as some kind of utopia of freedom.
So many little interactions, jokes and banter, helping hands. I can only speak for those that engaged me, but each and every one was a lovely person, who put many in our culture to shame.
I feel so blessed with luck that the police had the morning off at Dunkerque camp, meaning we were able to take half a van load of tents onto the site – so desperately needed. We also had another van full of sleeping bags, and blankets (which we could have got on anyway). They were right at the end of their blanket supply, and from about 3 minutes after we started unloading and right through the day we saw those blankets we delivered going back out again.”
We want blankets. We want tents. We want sleeping bags.
The camps in Northern France closed and the people were moved to new camps. Bob Davies, Solidarity volunteer observed, “On the final day we all joined the good hearted chain gang unloading another lorry load of aid that had arrived. Witnessing how an international community of refugees and volunteers with little or no central direction can build so much in terms of physical structures and emotional attachments restored my faith in humanity in dark and difficult times. If only the British and French Governments could learn to appeal to people’s better instincts instead of pandering to the basest we might even solve this problem”. Then The Jungle was bulldozed, with 1500 people being moved to containers which looked suspiciously like a cheap jail, but with thousands left entirely homeless and destitute, again. I will let them tell you how they are treated as it is illustrated by the protest of eight refugees. They are all from Iran. You should know their names;
Sasan, 17 years old, a student
Mokthar, 34 years old, a Maths teacher
Mohammed, 25 years old, an aeronautical engineer
Daoud, 30 years old, a tattoo artist
Mohammed, 43 years old, a jeweller
Rezza, 24 years old, a personal trainer
Hamed, 25 years old, a car dealer
Ishmail, 46 years old, a builder
At the beginning of March, as we were watching out for daffodils and crocuses, these men sewed their mouths shut and began a hunger strike. Others have since joined them, including British Aid Worker and acting coach, Tom Radcliffe. You can find his observations on his Twitter, which I am afraid stops when he joined this protest.
Their desires are such:
“We are on hunger strike because we left our countries to find our human rights and unfortunately here in Europe we find none.
At 12 noon 2 March 2016 we stopped eating and sewed our lips together. Today, 3rd March two more people joined us in this action. We will continue not to eat until our demands are met.
For the European Court of Human Rights to come to the jungle and meet us.
We want to end the forced eviction in the jungle.
We want an end of the use of tear gas.
We want an end of the attacks by fascists.
We want all the borders to be opened.
We feel nobody listens to us, so we will not eat until our demands are met. We take action on behalf of all the refugees in Europe.
We will stop drinking in two days if nobody from the European Court of Human Rights comes to meet us.”
Their intention is to raise awareness about the atrocities being carried out in the camp by the French authorities and protest the brutal forced evictions of thousands from The Jungle by way of tear gas and violence.
Tied up in bureaucracy and statistics, these people suffer for the wishy washy words of our politicians and the callous actions of governments and authorities across Europe. These people are weak, traumatised, sick, malnourished and grief-stricken. To join their protest please sign the Avaaz petition to the United Nations. Make them consider human rights and acknowledge the breaches now.
Over the past month volunteers have travelled across the world delivering donations from Derbyshire to the refugees. Volunteers have worked the French camps, helping to ease the evictions on the refugee side and two containers have been filled and sent to Syria itself.
There are a number of upcoming events for Solidarity, starting with the DE Solidarity Weekday Mini-sort at the fruit and veg market on Chequers Road in Derby on Thursday 17th March from 9:30am to 5pm. This sorting will go to Syria, Dunkerque and Calais.
Then we have our Amber Valley Solidarity collection, this Saturday 19th March at the Unitarian Chapel off Green Lane, Belper from 1:30pm to 4pm.
What is needed:
Food: chick peas, lentils, rice, tinned vegetables, sugar, cooking oil, spices.
NO BAKED BEANS, TINNED SPAGHETTI, COUS COUS…please stick to this list, it was constructed on advice from the ground in the camps.
Next up is an EM Solidarity fundraiser in Nottingham. At Spanky’s on Goldsmith Street in Nottingham at 9pm on the 26th March, raise money to get Solidarity volunteers to camps, transport for donations to France, Lesvos, Syria etc. £5 charity club night courtesy of Spanky’s and LLTA.
Also on 26th March is the Big Sort for Amber Valley Solidarity, which will begin around lunchtime and finish whenever we finish. If you are willing to volunteer to drive donations over to Derby to join the DE Solidarity deliveries to Northern France, Calais and Syria then please email:
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Finally City Zen are using their 10th anniversary to fundraise for DE Solidarity, which also helps AV Solidarity as Amber Valley donations travel with Derby donations. This fundraiser is on Saturday 2nd April at The Ukrainian centre from 6pm until 12 midnight. City Zen’s promotion for the event says,
“City-Zen’s 10th anniversary fundraiser for DE Solidarity! Loads of stuff to get involved with including an open art jam, open buffet, open stage, open skill share, open info stall, open playlist and more. We really want to make this a City-Zen shin dig worthy of a decade raising money and awareness for loads of quality causes, having hosted and promoted so many awesome artists and performers and much more. Spread the word”
But of course, you are in Belper or somewhere in the Amber Valley and you need to bring your donations to us at the Unitarian Chapel on Saturday.
Pauline Latham, Tory MP for Mid Derbyshire, tweeted and Facebooked Amber Valley Solidarity on Christmas Eve. Despite using it to appear compassionate, she has neglected to include it on the list of mostly useless charities which she emailed out to people who attended the Syria and Refugee Crisis Meeting (at which two of us spoke). So in an effort to be a bit more helpful, if you don’t have anything to donate but want to help, have something different that you think could help someone or you are not around this weekend then there are several things that you can do:
1) Send equipment via Leisure Fayre. Click that link, click help for refugees and enjoy a discount and the knowledge that the equipment goes straight to the refugees.
2) Use those emails to talk to us. You can drop things at our houses. There’s always something going off somewhere. Although it is better for us if you can get donations to the collection.
3) Bring money. There will be a bucket out and this money goes towards delivery costs. All the people involved are unpaid volunteers.
4) Attend or host a fundraiser – email us
5) Offer us space for long term storage
6) Buy an extra tin of food. Everything is useful. You don’t have to turn up with boxes and boxes of stuff.
We will however turn away donations that we cannot use. Warehouses in Derby and Alfreton are packed with clothes. We need shelter, warmth and food. You cannot dump your high heels and quilts on us this time. Please offer things that we have not included on our list to church homeless schemes or talk to Hope for Belper who run the food bank and the Street Angels. You can take shoes to Clarks on King Street, which is a Unicef drop off point for the Shoe Share which pays for the Schools in a Box scheme.
We also need to warn against donating part used foods. We have to assume that there is a risk of them being contaminated and we have to dispose of them. So genuine donations of half used products do not get used, cannot be used, will not be used and we won’t accept them. Apologies but we have multiple instances of this occurring.
As a bright ending, we want to thank Oxfam. Linda from Oxfam got in touch and established a partnership of passing on all the useful goods that they couldn’t sell. Sacks and sacks of coats and now sleeping bags. All along this is just compassionate people coming to together to change fate in tiny ways and it all helps.
Our volunteers have grown since we started in November, so we should have a fair few people to meet you when you arrive. Or contact us and get more involved. We are on Facebook. We hope to see you on Saturday!
Photos: DE and AV Solidarity, Good Chance Calais