Lancaster Councillor spends New Year with Calais refugees

Coun Novell at the Calais refugee camp, where she spent the New Year.
Coun Novell at the Calais refugee camp, where she spent the New Year.

A Lancaster City Councillor spent a “magical” New Year with people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan at the refugee camp in Calais, France.

Marsh Ward Coun Rebecca Novell said there were 2,000 more people there than when she first visited in November, and conditions had worsened.

Coun Novell in Lesvos

Coun Novell in Lesvos

Coun Novell also visited the Greek island of Lesvos which she said was much more hygienic, much less crowded and much more organized than Calais.

She said that it had been “one of the most moving experiences of my life.”

She said: “There are about 2,000 more people since we went in October.

“The camp has grown from an estimated 4,000 people in October to 6,000 people.

New Years Eve at the Calais Refugee Camp

New Years Eve at the Calais Refugee Camp

“The situation seemed more desperate and there was definitely more tension in the air.

“We witnessed fights in the distribution lines this time - mainly because there are more people and fewer supplies as the food donations and clothes donations are less frequent.

“There is litter everywhere.

There is just so much waste as clothes become sodden and unusable. People attempt to clear the camp but it still remains completely unhygienic.”

Coun Novell sitting with a child from Syria in Lesvos

Coun Novell sitting with a child from Syria in Lesvos

She said there was also a big increase in police presence, and she was instructed not to hand out aid.

She added: “I spoke to Majid, an 18-year-old who said that he would like to return to his home land of Syria as soon as he could.

“But for now he wants to live in England where he knows he will be safe.”

Rebecca added that she and a friend spent time with refugees on New Year’s Eve, and described her experiences with people from many war torn countries as “magical”.

In Lesvos, Coun Novell and a friend helped people off boats arriving from Turkey.

She said: “There are many volunteers on hand to help them off the boat safely, give them a change of clothes, warm them up, feed them hot food and then transport them to Moria Camp.

“At Moria they are registered and buy a ticket for the ferry to Athens.

“From there, most travel to Germany in search of asylum.

“It was honestly one of the most moving experiences of my life. I met so many women with tiny children who had risked so much in search of a safe home. It became clearer than ever that these people are not coming to Europe because they want to but because they simply have no other choice.”

In response to recent claims in national media that “jihadis could be hiding in plain sight in the Calais refugee camp”, Coun Novell said: “The majority of people we helped off boats were very elderly or women with tiny children.

“It was clear that these people are not making this life-threatening journey for any other reason than necessity.

“I have worked with young people on the Prevent Agenda in London and so have some experience with people who are a terrorist threat and I didn’t see a single person who caused me any suspicion.”