Lancaster councillor stuck in Calais ‘war zone’

CS gas in the refugee camp in Calais. Photo by Johnny Unger.
CS gas in the refugee camp in Calais. Photo by Johnny Unger.
  • Donation drop turns to bedlam as French police fire CS gas cannons
  • People block the motorway in protest at conditions
  • Camp has minimal sanitation and medical care
  • Volunteers trapped in camp as refugees return fire with rocks

A Lancaster councillor says she was caught up in a “terrifying” CS gas attack on refugees by riot police in Calais.

Coun Rebecca Joy Novell returned from France on Thursday, October 8, after transporting hundreds of donations from Lancaster residents.

Rebecca, centre, with some of the men in the Calais camp, who had made their way to Calais from Sudan.

Rebecca, centre, with some of the men in the Calais camp, who had made their way to Calais from Sudan.

She described the conditions there as “like a war zone”, after witnessing French police fire CS gas cannons into the camp, and also into individual tents.

Whilst Rebecca and the four other volunteers she travelled with were handing out the donations, police arrived in response to a number of people who had blocked the motorway, which Rebecca says was in protest about their treatment and living conditions.

The Green Party Councillor for the Marsh area of Lancaster, who has recently spent time working as a volunteer with people on death row in America, said: “Despite remaining peaceful and calm, the riot police suddenly fired CS gas cannons, completely flooding the camp.

“We were able to escape, however the police would not let any refugees escape.

One of the makeshift camps in Calais

One of the makeshift camps in Calais

“It was like a war zone, it was terrifying.

“There was gas everywhere and the police were indiscriminately shooting into tents.

“We spoke to some other volunteers who explained that the police were doing this every week.

“I have never witnessed more barbaric treatment of people.”

Rebecca said the incident occured on Wednesday night, October 7.

She said: “We handed out donations during the day, and suddenly all these riot vans arrived. They blocked off the entrance to the camp.

“A few of the refugees had gone onto the motorway.

“Suddenly a British girl started causing a scene, and they started firing these huge cannons.

“We all ran where we could.

“I got out straight away behind the police, but two of the volunteers I was with panicked and ran into the camp.

“I started screaming for them and they eventually got through.

“They were firing the cannon for about half an hour.

“They were opening tents up and firing cannon in.

“It wasn’t crowd control, they were firing over the crowd and into the camp, where people were eating their meals.

“People were throwing rocks back.

“It was not proportionate. It was a show of might.”

Over the last month, Lancaster residents have donated over 80 tents, 60 sleeping bags and countless boxes of clothes and food, as well as contributed £1,400 in cash for those in need.

Other collections in the city have raised similar amounts of aid.

Councillor Novell travelled to Calais on October 6 with four other volunteers - Chris Watkins, Johnny Unger and Emma Mulliner, from Lancaster, and Danielle Manson, from London.

She said: “The contributions filled two large Luton vans with many donations unable to fit.

“The rest will be transported down next month.

“When we arrived at the camp, it was overwhelmingly sad to see the situation that nearly 4,000 people are living in.

“There is minimal sanitation and medical care and most of the people living there are walking around in the freezing cold in flip-flops and t-shirts.

“Shoes were like gold-dust and thanks to the generosity of the people of Lancaster, we were able to buy an additional 60 pairs of trainers from a local cash and carry in France.”

Rebecca said she will be returning to Calais in November to take more donations and again over Christmas and New Year.

If you would like to donate items or money, to help those in Calais, please email rebeccajoynovell@gmail.com or see the Facebook page Lancaster Supports Calais Refugees.