Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Supporting homeless refugees in Paris with cups of Solidarithé

Down and Out in Paris and London

It is far from an easy life living on the streets of France's capital city, just read a bit of the book Down and Out in Paris and London to find out how George Orwell got on. Today, eighty five years later and life as a homeless refugee 'sans papier' living rough on the streets of Paris life is pretty grim.

Many hundred of young men, from Sudan, Aghanistan and Eritrea are sleeping on the streets of the area in Paris called Porte de La Chapelle.  The voluntary group Solidarithé gives out free cups of hot, sweet tea and coffee every evening on the Boulevard Ney.

While in France in July 2017, I drove a delivery of tea and coffee to Paris.  I stayed for a week and volunteered with the French charity Utopia56 and Solidarithé.

Supporting refugees with a cup of Solidarithé

I saw that the queue for the one hot meal the guys receive, provided daily by the city authorities, is often fraught with tension and sometimes simmering wth frustration (and that is just how the stewards feel) but tea time is a much calmer affair.  Around 8pm is a time of respite, a period of relative calm, the guys take a few moments to saviour a hot drink laced with spoonfuls of sugar, and they then chat with their mates, attend an art workshop or take a language class sat on the pavement.  Newcomers receive information sheets with a map and addresses of useful government offices, voluntary groups, charities, clinics located in and around Paris.

The small favour done by Solidarithé doesn't solve the problem of homelessness among refugees, but it does lift moral and it is a vital service.

To keep going, Solidarithé needs to muster vast quantities of paper cups, many kilos of coffee, thousands of tea bags, dozens of sacks of sugar, pens, colouring pencils, paper, exercise books, art equipment, and all this costs money and takes effort.

If you want to volunteer your time, give money, or donate essentials then please visit the Solidarithé Facebook page.
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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Refugees in crisis: How to fill and pack emergency food bags for distribution to refugees living without shelter

July 2017: Preparing food bags for distribution to Sudanese refugees living rough in Bruxelles

In the Autumn of 2015, the death of the little Syrian boy Alan Kurdi placed the refugee story centre stage in the mind's eye of many people.  Outraged by the humanitarian crisis, volunteers across Europe kickstarted a huge effort to provide aid and support to the men, women and children arriving here, fleeing war, famine and poverty in several countries across the Middle East and Africa.

This video shows how a very small team of volunteers, albeit with good funding, was able to put together hundreds of food bags in double quick time.  The process in the video works well, but it can be improved.  After watching, I hope you think of improvements and put them into practice to ensure the people you help get the best support available.


Since then, the need to support the thousands of vulnerable refugees, rather than abating has increased.  The unofficial refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, while awful, offered at least some stability to the encamped refugees.  The camps meant charitable associations could more easily provide tents, caravans, hot meals, clothing and support in a centralised location. However, the breakup of the unofficial camps and the dispersement of thousands of refugees across France and Belgium means the men, women and child refugees and volunteer groups now face different challenges.

In July 2017, the Liverpool based refugee and homeless support team at Merseyaid, put out a call for aid to be delivered to France.  I transported almost a hundred sleeping bags and blankets for distribution to refugees sleeping rough in Northern France.  I stayed volunteering for a couple of weeks.  While in Calais, I helped out at the Care4Calais warehouse in Sangatte and did two food bag distributions to hundreds of young Sudanese men living rough around the Gare du Nord rail station in Bruxelles.

Delivering a food bag distribution to a multitude of end-users is challenging and requires good teamwork but the back-end logistics of gathering suitable food donations, filling and packing bags, balancing the often conflicting issues of deadline, quantity, quality, and budget, requires money, strong processes, as well as great teamwork. 

Merseyaid refugee and homeless support

If you want to donate food, clothes, money or volunteer your time to help refugee men, women, boys and girls please visit Merseyaid the Liverpool based refugee and homeless support group.

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Calais refugees are stuck in the Jungle. What can we do? We need to get ready!

The Calais Jungle refugee camp

There are rumours that increased numbers of Syrians will be allowed to claim asylum in the UK.  This is because the prime minister David Cameron and the Tory government is under pressure from increasing numbers of British citizens to allow more refugees to seek asylum here.  This is good news if indeed more refugees will, at long last, find safe haven here.  However, this will NOT help a single refugee in the Calais Jungle camp.  Any new asylum seekers will only be granted access to the UK directly from Syria and not from Calais.  There will still be a refugee crisis for the tens of thousands of men, winding across Europe, the majority of whom are fleeing from war torn countries, dictatorships and disaster.  These refugees are all mums, dads, sons and daughters, and they are all desperate to find a safe place to sleep and a secure place to live.

Can you help? Of course I can!

Hundreds of these escaping people will find their way to Calais.  Their hope is to make it to the UK.  However, they will find their way blocked by the English Channel and no legal way to cross to England.  Access to the port and railway is blocked by high security fences, razor wire, security guards and riot police. Thousands of refugees will remain stuck in limbo in Calais, with no option but to find shelter in the unofficial Jungle refugee camp.

So what do we do? We need to prepare! Winter is coming: rain, wind and cold.  Please collect more men's winter clothes, more footwear, more sleeping bags and more blankets. Get organised! Sort and pack donations by type. Collect together donations locally. Gather together supporters of the Calais refugees. Organise a van to take donations to the regional collection points. Watch the groups for news of new improved storage and distribution channels.

The arrival in recent times of thousands of refugees in the camp is challenging existing methods of support in Calais. This is normal for any operation. Increased demand needs to be met by increased supply and improved methods of distribution. Please don't be disheartened by stories of delay and hassles distributing in the camp.

Your donations of food and clothing will continue to make better the existence and everyday lives of the refugees in the camp. Your expressions of compassion and your efforts to ensure these men, women, boy and girls are provided safe haven is having a positive impact.

Merseyaid refugee and homeless support group
Merseyaid refugee and homeless support

If you want to donate food, clothes, money or volunteer your time to help refugee men, women, boys and girls please visit Merseyaid the Liverpool based refugee and homeless support group.

Do you have some community news from around the Ormskirk area to share or a story to tell? Yes!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Asylum Seeker dispersal areas are typically in economically and socially deprived areas

The Sudan quarter of the Calais Refugee Camp

I spent Wednesday evening with my wife Heather filtering through reams of research material for the BBC Radio Lancashire radio interview on Thursday 3rd September 2015. In the end of course, I didn't need all the the statistics or "fun facts" about seeking asylum in the UK.  But it was reassuring to have something in the bag to pull out if needed.

What I learned though, through doing the research, is that the UK asylum system is totally disfunctional. The only people who seem to win are MP's who ensure that Asylum Seekers are dispersed across the country, far away from their safe seats. The other winners are the private companies contracted to manage the system. These companies are rewarded huge amounts of tax-payer's money for delivering sub-standard services. What's more they include the usual suspects. You've heard of them all before as they are same companies who keep cropping up in connection with the running of private prisons, custody services, deporting "failed" asylum seekers etc.

Asylum Seeker dispersal areas are typically in economically and socially deprived areas, and these parts of the country have rates of high unemployment, and low incomes: areas in South Wales, Birmingham, the North West, the North East and Glasgow. To top it all asylum seekers are often among the most economically and socially deprived people in these most deprived of areas. The interview tomorrow is being being transmitted across the North West, an area that has a disproportionate number of asylum seekers and in many parts of the region, some of the poorest citizens in the country. While the direct costs of Asylum Seekers dispersal are funded by the UKBA and not local council tax, there can of course be an impact on social-cohesion. It's a tricky subject to tackle. It is perhaps not a surprise that dispersal areas are not in areas like Knightsbridge, Hampstead, Chelsea and (excluding Labour London and a couple of notable exceptions) the South East of England. It's curious that areas which vote Tory and have the highest house prices growth are not areas designated for Asylum seekers dispersal. Make of that what you will.

I want to thank Graham Liver for talking with me this morning on BBC Radio Lancashire about the Calais Refugees. It's a difficult subject, a lot of emotion and strong opinions on both sides of the debate. Those people with low incomes and who rely on public services, are the ones most likely to have to shoulder the burden of government spending cuts. Is it no wonder then that people at the bottom of the pile, are going to feel threatened about the possible impact that large numbers of new arrivals, immigrants and refugees might have on jobs, social housing and public services. Even so, I have met and spoken with lots of British people, many from the North West who, while they might not have much money, are either collecting donations, or giving their time as volunteers, all to help people worse of than themselves: the men, women, boys and girls who have fled from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Calais People to People Solidarity - Action from the UK

If you want to donate food, clothes, money or volunteer your time to help the men, women, boys and girls in the Calais Refugee Jungle Camp, please join the Facebook group Calais - People to People Solidarity - Action from UK

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