Lancaster teen speaks up for Calais refugees after aid mission

Bethan French, 15, from Lancaster in Calais
Bethan French, 15, from Lancaster in Calais

Teachers, students, health workers and trades unionists from the Lancaster area spent time helping refugees and migrants in Calais this month.

The group attended the ‘Stand Up to Racism’ conference in London before taking donations of clothes, toiletries, food and cash to the French port town.

Eugene Doherty and Audrey Glover

Eugene Doherty and Audrey Glover

In 2016, the French government moved people away from the area known as the Calais Jungle, which was populated by several thousand adults and children waiting for an opportunity to enter the UK.

But people are still making the often deadly journey into northern France, mainly from Asia and Africa, in the hope of gaining entry into the UK.

Bethan French, aged 15, who attends Central Lancaster High School and visited Calais with her mum Frank Aldcroft, said she said she had “almost” forgotten about the refugee crisis, and this made her feel “disappointed in myself and other people”.

She said: “It wasn’t being talked about and there was a forgotten awareness of the situation.

Sorting and distributing in Calais.

Sorting and distributing in Calais.

“I also knew about the stigma surrounding refugees trying to enter the UK; that they were going to ‘steal our jobs’ and other things. I didn’t understand why people had so much hate for people they didn’t even know.”

She described some of the people she met as “very lovely”.

She added: “The whole trip was emotive and it baffles me how people can be so cruel as to deny somebody their basic human rights to food, water, and a safe place to stay.

“We are all human. What makes their needs less than ours, especially when they have so little?”

Morecambe teaching assistant Dawn Brook said: “I was astounded at the massive scale of the Care4Calais operation and the absolute dedication to improving the living conditions of migrants.

“My team were sent to an industrial estate - grim and cold. Luckily, the day was bright and clear but icy cold strong winds and the odd sleet shower made it uncomfortable to stand just for a few hours - never mind to sleep, night after night with no shelter. 

“All the men I spoke to had been here sleeping out with no shelter for over six months. 

“I can’t deny I was nervous about what to expect, but I was truly heartened by the spirit of the men we met (we only saw one woman) - their resilience, hope and humour was moving and inspiring. 

“They had risked their lives and savings to endure a treacherous journey from their war-torn homelands to travel thousands of miles in the hope of a safer, more dignified life in the UK.”

Audrey Glover, who helped to organise the trip, said: “The only lasting thing is the waiting. The sense of lives on hold, human potential stunted, thwarted, blocked. The first distribution we did was on an industrial estate.

“There were a few tents and an open fire. As we gave out bags of clothing and food, we were constantly shaking hands. The warmth and humour shown by people at their lowest ebb was heartening and heartbreaking at once.”