Keeping ‘in touch’ with the world’s neediest
Osman Gondal, founder and CEO of Bradford’s InTouch Foundation, has visited the migrant camps in Dunkirk and Calais, feeding and clothing thousands of refugees who have fled their war-torn countries. He now has plans in place to go every month as the need is so great.
He said: “I went to the Grand Synthe camp in Dunkirk in December last year and there were about 800-1000 people there.
“We went again at the end of January this year and that number has trebled in the camp. It’s only going to get worse.”
The Grand Synthe in Dunkirk was supposed to be a commercial development for properties. It is located on a field without any services.
He continued: “When I went back in December, there was only one tap shared between 2000 people. That was it, apart from a handful of toilets. There are now some more services although when you look at the pictures, you can see that humans should not be living in those conditions.
“It’s wet, it’s cold, there’s children playing around in faeces and it’s an environment where diseases spread rapidly. Some aid is getting through but it’s being controlled by the French police. It’s purely down to chance if the police let you in.”
17 volunteers went to Calais and were all from different backgrounds.
“We had volunteers from all different walks of life. It was a good mix.”
“At InTouch we try to keep everything very simple. We prepared the food with Sunrise Catering before we left. 220 kilos of mincemeat was donated and was prepared by all the staff at Sunrise Catering as well as many pallets of salad.
Osman continued: “The food was cooked in Bradford, then it was blast-frozen and taken to the camps. We gave out over 2000 meals on the Friday and the same again on the Saturday.
“We also handed out over 1200 thermal hats, gloves and socks, 8000 packets of biscuits and cakes donated by KCB, 8000 nan breads donated by Islam Bradford, sweets donated by Zoyas, Nafees and Fresh Fillingz as well as hundreds of wellies, shoes and fleeces and many, many cups of hot tea.
“We supported one of the kitchens that was already there, which was run by a man called Jamal Ul-Lail from County Durham. He went to the camp in September with his wife and has stayed there ever since, cooking up meals for the migrants from his kitchen in Calais on a daily basis. We donated 2480kg of rice to Jamal which will feed many thousands of refugees for the next 40 days.
Osman explained that the ‘jungle’ in Calais has been there for several years, but has only recently come into the eye of the media because of Syrian people’s plight.
He said: “There are shops in Calais and it’s more established. An entrepreneurial spirit runs through the camp and migrants have set up restaurants. However, not everyone can afford to eat, so people rely heavily on charity aid.
“As far as I’m concerned, if there are 5000 people in a camp and we took food down for 2000, you need two van loads a day to cater for that many people. If you times that by 30 days – you’re going to need 60 convoys going down every month.
“When you see children play in that cold and filth without the right jackets or gloves, it has a huge impact on the volunteers. When we gave the kids sweets, they broke out in huge smiles. Simple actions can make a huge difference.”
“We met people from Belgium, Germany and France and people are very giving but authorities need to do far more because I’ve seen heart-wrenching conditions there that need immediate attention.”
The Finland President, Sauli Niinistö said 20,000 of the 32,000 asylum applications Finland received last year would likely be rejected and those people expelled from the country. He has called for tougher rules to stop refugees entering Europe simply for a better life.
Osman said: “Anyone that’s refugee or migrant status is already trying to better their life, so isn’t that statement paradoxical?
“It’s through no fault of their own that refugees have to flee their countries due to war. Who would want their children to cross a freezing cold sea? It’s because they want to save their lives, not just ‘better their lives’.
“As a country, we should get out of this scaremongering mentality that people want to enter the UK for benefits. We can accept much more than 20,000 people. The majority of refugees want to work and put money back into the system.
“The government’s whole approach to this is wrong. Jeremy Corbyn went to the jungle and saw it with his own eyes. I am giving David Cameron an open invition to come with us and see what is happening in Calais.”
Osman now has a team that is committed to helping the refugees in the camps. He is hoping to activate teams on a monthly basis to carry out distribution of aid.
If you are interested in donating please call 0333 3350403 or visit the website on www.intouchfoundation.co.uk