Convoy to Calais

Volunteers in Calais distributing aid, photo by Paul Mattsson, photo by Paul Mattsson

Volunteers in Calais distributing aid, photo by Paul Mattsson, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Outrageous blocking of aid for refugees

Isai Priya

Thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war, conflict and poverty continue to be trapped in desperate and deteriorating conditions in camps in Calais. Supplies in the camps are running low.

On 18 June, a convoy to Calais of 250 vehicles, including cars, lorries and minibuses set off to deliver solidarity and aid. It has been planned for months but the organisers received a letter two days before, in effect banning the convoy because of “heightened security” in France.

Of course, the borders continue to be open if you’re going on holiday, for the European Championship football tournament for example, and will benefit big business.

Hundreds of people assembled on Saturday morning at Whitehall in London before making our way to Dover. Outrageously we were stopped there and refused entry by the French authorities.

Manchester contingent on the convoy to Calais, 18.6.16

Manchester contingent on the convoy to Calais, 18.6.16   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

We were told that the border was closed and the ban for the convoy was confirmed. So a protest took place and the slogan “we’ve got aid, let us through – refugees are humans too” gained momentum. One lorry with donations and a handful of volunteers were allowed to cross to France but about half the aid was in the vehicles left behind.

Embassy protest

After some discussion with the police the organisers told protesters that we would all drive back to London and protest outside the French embassy, depositing the remaining aid there. Some felt we could have continued and escalated the protest where we were – against both the UK and the French authorities.

Towards the end, the slogan the crowd kept repeating was “Tories out.” This government is responsible for huge austerity, as well as for bombing other countries and turning innocent victims into refugees.

The authorities might have stopped the convoy but not the human solidarity of the people who took part and supported it. This is not the end – we need to build a mass movement of trade unionists, socialists, students and working class people to demand more refugees are taken in and that there is proper investment in jobs, homes and services for all.

We must grow the strength of our movement

Bridget Taylor

We blockaded Dover Port for over an hour in protest at the convoy not being allowed in to France – chanting and holding placards and banners to prevent the ferry from leaving.

Eventually we had to leave as the police were threatening to kettle us. Their aim was to only let vehicles leave the port individually – which would have broken up the convoy and left us kettled in the port for hours.

We deposited our aid donations at the French Embassy in London (the only way we could reach ‘French territory’) to shame that government and continue with our protest, chanting things like “shame on you – refugees are people too.”

Manchester contingent, getting ready to leave; Convoy to Calais, 18.6.16, photo by Bridget Taylor

Manchester contingent, getting ready to leave; Convoy to Calais, 18.6.16, photo by Bridget Taylor   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

There were reports in the media that the French police accused us of planning to ‘facilitate intrusions’ (ie smuggle refugees into the UK) – which was never the aim of the convoy.

The real reason the border police didn’t want us to enter France is that the French government has consistently ignored the rights and needs of the refugees within its borders and will not tolerate any attempt to draw attention to this humanitarian crisis. This is also worsened by the policies of Cameron’s Tory government.

The protest showed the strength of opposition to the way refugees are being treated by states across Europe. Manchester Metropolitan University For Refugees is already contemplating a second convoy later this year.

Our response must and will be to grow the strength of our movement and to continue to demonstrate our solidarity with refugees across all borders. We will not be defeated by this shameful act.

Crisis shows reality of Fortress Europe

Helen Pattison

The blocking of the convoy at Dover had a politicising impact on the whole convoy event. It changed the mood from a day of solidarity and charity to one of protest, anger and defiance.

Many of those taking part expected a day away from the referendum debate. But being stopped at the border really brought it back.

We are repeatedly told we can move freely within the EU but here 250 cars carrying basic supplies for refugees were stopped from crossing the border to France.

The refugee crisis has exposed the EU’s real attitude towards migration. A number of border controls within the EU have been introduced for the first time in decades.

This is the real EU – Fortress Europe. Refugees, many desperately escaping the bombs of this government, the US and France, struggle to find safety. Even if they make it into Europe many live in appalling conditions, such as those in Calais.

Ordinary people, charities and trade unions shouldn’t have to collect basic aid for refugees within Europe. One person told us how shocked she was that both aid charities helping refugees in France are currently “very low on food.”

This was a convoy that planned to travel through two of the richest countries in the world because neither provides a decent standard of living to refugees fleeing war. The wealth exists to offer refugees, and the entire rest of the population, decent food and housing – but sits in the bank accounts and companies of the super-rich 1%.

Homes for all

Many people had donated tents. The Socialist Party leaflet pointed out that across the EU there are 11 million empty homes – enough to solve the housing crisis faced by existing citizens as well as refugees.

There were cheers when we heard around half the donations made it on to the ferry and would be delivered to Calais. But, although the charity of ordinary people will help some of the 4,300 refugees in Calais, the crisis will continue. The need to take on the Tories and the war-mongering capitalist system they support is more important than ever.

As long as capitalist governments like ours continue to start wars and destroy the environment, people will have to flee their homes in desperation. To permanently solve the refugee crisis we must fight for a socialist world capable of providing for the needs of all.

Treating victims of the EU’s policies

Medical aid charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has said it will no longer accept donations from the EU or any of its 28 member states (which currently provide 8% of its funding). This is in protest at the deal between the EU and Turkey on refugees – where all refugees arriving in Greece who didn’t apply for asylum in advance are deported back to Turkey.

Jerome Oberreit, secretary general of MSF, said: “The EU deal is the latest in a long line of policies that go against the values and the principles that enable assistance to be provided.” He added: “We cannot accept funding from the EU or the member states while at the same time treating the victims of their policies. It’s that simple.”

24 – People displaced every minute.

The latest figures from the UN refugees agency shows a record 65 million refugees worldwide – that’s one in every 113 people on the planet forced to flee their homes, more than a 50% increase in five years