15 February 2016
Dunkirk Refugee Camp – Tales from a Humanitarian Volunteer
I have a very rewarding job at Slater and Gordon and have a keen interest in humanitarian issues.
One such issue that’s very close to my heart is that of the refugee camps at Calais and Dunkirk. I wanted to do something to help them and started by organising aid boxes at work, encouraging colleagues to bring in clothes, sleeping bags, tents and the like.
The response from my colleagues at Slater and Gordon has been overwhelming. Just this week I received 28 boxes at my desk, meaning that we now have enough aid to send to the warehouse on the outskirts of Calais that supplies the nearby refugee camps.
Last month, I volunteered at the Dunkirk refugee camp and saw first-hand the issues that the refugees face day in, day out.
My Account as a Volunteer
Every day sees more and more refugees arrive at the camp. Some of them are too afraid to come to the town and are living in the dunes at Dunkirk. This means it’s difficult to get an accurate figure on how many refugees there are in total.
Most of the refugees are genuine and many of them are educated professionals. They are escaping from brutality in their own country and hope to find a better life in Europe, but are having to cope with some appalling conditions at the camps.
There are currently over 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, many of whom go missing after arrival. The Dunkirk camp alone holds the highest number of children and has an estimated 3,500 refugees in total. The camp is rat-infested and refugees live and sleep amongst puddles of sewage.
I was shocked to discover that 97 out of 100 refugees are suffering from scabies. My friend is a doctor and he was in the group of medics who walked around the camp to search for those in need of medical aid. Many of the people they treated had scabies and diarrhoea. He also noticed that some had bruising and lashings on their skin.
Our group of volunteers were made up of young lawyers and medics. Drive for Justice were excellent at organising the trip and are very experienced at delivering aid in volatile situations. We funded the trip ourselves and with generous donations from family, friends and colleagues. Thank you to everyone that has been involved!
Unfortunately, we faced many obstacles at the camp that made it difficult for us to give out the aid when we arrived. The authorities would not allow access to the camp with our vehicles. The torrential rain and trench like conditions made it laborious and risky to carry the heavy load.
Instead, we broke into small groups so that we could carry the aid and then distribute it inside the camp. When we arrived at the gates of the camp with our aid we were informed that a local group were making threats to torch our vehicles.
I hope that such obstacles do not put other volunteers off helping out at the camps. The refugees need our aid and support and I’ll be continuing to do what I can to help them.
Sam Reyani is a Litigation Executive at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.
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