CPR and Calais
Pilgrims on the Via Francigena walking from Canterbury to Rome necessarily pass through Calais. Few of us will ever set eyes on a refugee, and – in answer to the repeated question – personal safety is no more at risk there than in any other port or city.
But as we head for Rome with our packed rucksacks, new boots, and electronic gizmos, we are passing by one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time.
Conditions for migrants in Calais are appalling, as our editor, Mary Kirk, witnessed first-hand in January 2018 when she went there with a carload of donations – warm and waterproof clothes, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, tarpaulins – and stayed to volunteer a week at the Auberge des Migrants.
The Auberge des Migrants
This organisation, in partnership with Help Refugees (a UK charity which covers the daily management of the warehouse and volunteers), works in Calais as well as offering aid in the Grand-Synthe refugee camp at La Linière, near Dunkirk. The Auberge des Migrants provides daily meals, firewood, and material aid to people who have fled their own countries. Every day between 30 and 70 volunteers work in the warehouse in Calais, preparing hot meals and sorting material donations to be distributed in the camp and on the streets of Calais. There is also a School Bus (mobile classroom and counselling unit), and an Info Van where migrants can connect to Wi-Fi and charge their mobile phones.
This work is desperately needed as, despite President Macron’s assurances that France would henceforth ensure that refugees are fed and that the police would respect human rights, this is not happening. French police are still systematically destroying or confiscating refugees’ belongings, depriving them of any means of shelter.
The day Mary Kirk arrived a teenage migrant lost an eye when a CS gas canister hit him in the face. It was one more skirmish in the war of attrition waged by the French authorities and police with the regular use of beatings, CS gas, and pepper spray aimed onto migrants’ clothes, sleeping bags, tents and even water supply, often in the early hours of the morning.
One result of this police action is that the Auberge des Migrants and other agencies have to work doubly hard to replace the goods destroyed. These questionable tactics do not remove the migrants from Calais, but they do make their desperate lives more miserable, and only inflame a volatile and unsafe environment.
How can pilgrims help?
The obvious means of help is financial. The CPR has recently donated to the Auberge des Migrants, and would urge pilgrims to do the same. There is a link for donations at the bottom of this page.
Every donation can make a difference. The Auberge des Migrants depends on private donations to pursue its humanitarian work independently. Money received is invested solely into their day-to-day operations, to pay the rent of the warehouse in Calais, the salaries of their three permanent employees, and the fuel needed to drive to and from the Dunkirk refugee camp.
But why not add a few hours – or more – to your pilgrimage and go and participate in the work of the Auberge des Migrants? Whatever time you can give will be welcome, and so will you be. A hot lunch will be available to you, and there is a safe area for your rucksack. The only stipulation is to email first firstname.lastname@example.org and they will tell you the address of the warehouse.
Link for donations
Update June 2018
The conditions for the 600+ exiled persons in Calais and the surrounds are worse than ever, despite the advent of summer. Watch this video https://www.facebook.com/AubergeMigrants/videos/10156105059245339/ to see how things have progressed, and please give if you can.