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Responding to a day in Calais 

Teenager Matt Dominey visited the refugee camp in Calais last Tuesday (18 August). These are his reflections - and a link to the petition he has subsequently created calling on the UK to take in its fair share of refugees

Calais1As a 17 year old from Westcliff-on-Sea I never expected to a find a humanitarian crisis of such scale so close to home.

With 4,000 people struggling to survive in a barren wasteland of tarpaulin shacks and crumpled tents just a stone's throw from my doorstep, the Calais Refugee Camp is certainly not a vignette of normal European life.
The aid in Calais often finds itself over-stretched with a committed few doing what they can to provide relief for an otherwise ostracised community.

Gathering donations from across England we arrived at the distribution centre ran by Pascal (56) with what seemed like a lot to give.

It quickly became clear that the problem wasn’t a lack of supplies, but a lack of logistical support and manpower.

Pascal told us of how he was the youngest in a team of eight who were solely responsible for sorting the clothes distribution to 4000 refugees. He went on say that his driving force was that  “it's on my doorstep and I can't ignore it".

But that seems to be exactly what everyone else is doing- ignoring it. Big aid organisations like the UN are largely absent because the situation is simply too politically charged, but the need for their support is paramount.
This should no longer be a question of politics but one of humanitarian aid.

The stories I hear as I distribute food are varied in context but all similar in narrative: fleeing war-torn countries through fear of their life, these people long for stability and education in England.

They have trekked thousands of miles, often through treacherous conditions just for a glimpse of the border that gives them hope. Only to find that Britain won't have them, France doesn’t want them and the world will ignore them: surely the least we can do is help.

This should no longer be a question of politics but one of humanitarian aid.

The down to earth nature of these men is often harrowing; when I asked Ibrahim why he left his country he simply replies “My country, Syria- Is a problem country”.

Yet despite their broken backgrounds I am repeatedly greeted with a sense gratitude and hope that I did not expect in such a fractured environment.

A makeshift school teaching French and English to people of all ages finds its classroom full long after lessons have finished and the church recently seen on Songs of Praise is by far the most elaborate building on the site.

The pastor talks of his hope for the future but also of the terrible conditions in the camp and when he exclaims that “our skin may be different colours but we are all one blood”, I can’t help but feel embarrassed by the demonising Westminster rhetoric being used about the 100s of people I have seen today.
Since visiting nothing has played on my mind more than the awful conditions I saw these vulnerable people living in so close to my home. Just a quick glance at the news helps to establish how urgent this situation is; but all too often we focus on the immediate and selfish problems of the West rather than global solutions and the bigger picture.

Just a few hours in the camp made it crystal clear that we need to be investing our time and money in offering aid to the camp as a short term solution and to the broken countries these people flee, rather than throwing up fences and creating an environment of fear.

Until Britain puts aside its political and racial prejudice I imagine very little will change, but it’s important that we do what we can.
Please sign my petition calling for the UK to take in its fair share of refugees.

Matt Dominey attends Leigh Road Baptist Church in Essex and studies Government & Politics, History, English Literature and Sociology at Southend High School

Baptist Times, 25/08/2015
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