Migrant solidarity in London and Manchester

Two activists, Ewa Barker and Kate Bradley, discuss their involvment in migrant solidarity in London and Manchester

Donations to Bristol2Calais (Photo: Linda Nunn)
Donations to Bristol2Calais (Photo: Linda Nunn)

Ewa Barker initiated Manchester to Calais. Here she explains the dynamic within the movement in Manchester

The response to our page on Facebook was phenomenal!  A deluge, hundreds of emails, making offers, asking advice, intending to start similar actions in Chester, Stoke, Merseyside, Kendal…

Was it a reaction against Cameron’s hard-faced stance towards refugees and migrants?  A UK echo, perhaps, of the success of Podemos or Syriza in Europe?

We started with a handful of people in our front room.  Some from rs21, some new faces, a couple who had formed a group called “Open Borders” who had already been to Calais with a vanload of donations and whose experience helped to keep our discussions realistic.

In Greater Manchester there are now at least six teams or groups organising to support the people stranded in The Jungle camp in Calais.   There, the flood of aid from the UK has filled warehouses until the charities working with the jungle have had to cry “wait”, unable to deal with it all.  The current appeal is for help to build better shelters, wood rather than canvas, so willing hands to labour and money to buy materials are needed. Our little group has already raised over £5000 through GoGetFunding on the web.

It became obvious that we should organise a meeting to bring together those who had responded and become involved.  Thirty people turned up and a few more have joined us since. Apart from organising the mountains of stuff donated, transporting, sorting, storing, we have decided to fund three or four shelters and send a carload of helpers to build them in Calais.

Although the focus is primarily humanitarian, there is a political undercurrent.  After the first meeting, someone floated the suggestion that we should change our subtitle – “Migrant solidarity” to “Refugee Support”, on the grounds that refugees would find more public acceptance than migrants and “Solidarity” sounded too lefty. To my great satisfaction, a brief flurry of emails debating the point resulted in the name staying as it was.  A small step in establishing the fact that migration is a basic human right.

From pity to anger

Kate Bradley, an activist with London2Calais, describes the change in migrant rights politics

In early September, when the UK media decided to turn their fickle spotlight on the “refugee crisis”, I started answering enquiries for London2Calais, a political campaigning group which takes food aid and supplies to refugees at the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais.

At around the same time as I joined, hundreds of people, appalled by what they had seen on the news, started emailing us to get involved. People were overwhelmingly generous in their donations and offers of help. We raised over £10,000 in just one week.

People expressed their compassion in charitable terms: they wanted to give and to empathise before all else. However, they were also receptive to the political analyses which mark out London2Calais from many humanitarian charities. People are not naive enough to believe the ‘Big Society’ lie that charity alone will solve the crisis. We must engage with politics to find a solution to the myriad causes of human displacement.

This couldn’t have been clearer on our trip to L’Auberge des Migrants’ solidarity demonstration in Calais on 19 September. The mood in the ‘Jungle’ was angry: the refugees’ chant of choice was “No Jungle! No Jungle!” – a call for the powers-that-be to replace the refugees’ temporary refuge with permanent asylum.

We have to remember whose crisis this is. It is not a crisis for European politicians or nation states – it is a crisis for refugees. Therefore, we should listen to their voices – the ones chanting ‘No Jungle!’ – and work towards a more lasting freedom than can be handed out in a queue for food


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