A Bradford College student has been so moved by the plight of refugees in northern France she is filling a van of goods and delivering them in person later this month.
Helen Routledge, who is in the second year of a social work degree at the University Centre Bradford College, is collecting clothes, toiletries, tents and toys to distribute to the needy around Calais, Dunkirk and Paris.
According to Care4Calais there are currently around 1,000 refugees sleeping rough in Calais and Dunkirk and over 1,500 in Paris.
Bags are already piling up at her Oxenhope home thanks to the generosity of friends and family. A collection is taking place at her son's school, Oxenhope C of E Primary School, and she is now appealing to her fellow students to help provide much-needed items.
The mum-of-two will head over the Channel on 22nd November and will link up with the Care4Calais charity to distribute the aid. She'll be joined on the three-day mission by her sister Ashley Harlow and friend Kelly Harlow.
"Last year a friend told me she was collecting coats for Syrian refugee children. I wanted to help and managed to collect 100 myself.
"I then saw a documentary called The Forgotten Children about refugee orphans stranded in Europe and it broke my heart but also motivated me to do more.
"I started looking into the issue. I saw how horrendous it was and is. I thought, what can I do? I saw people had just put stuff in their cars and driven over so I decided that is what I would do. The idea of small, vulnerable children sleeping outside this winter upsets me.
"I spoke to a few of the other social work students and they said they would be up for supporting me. Now we are making it a college-wide appeal.
"I have never done any major charity fundraising before but I have found people are very willing to help, even if they can only donate a bottle of shampoo. Everyday items like that are very much needed and can help provide women and children some comfort and dignity.
"By going over I will get first-hand experience of the problem and will be able to come back and speak about my experience to raise awareness of the crisis."
A full list of the items sought is available on the website of Bradford College Students' Union and collections can be made in Bradford College on November 20th at 11.30am at the Student Hub in the David Hockney Building.
WONDERFUL GESTURE: Joseph pictured with some of the presents he will be sending to Calais
After seeing thousands of refugee children on television who ‘have nothing’, a six-year-old boy from Leeds has decided to give his birthday presents away to migrant children in France.
Currently, there are 1,179 children living in the camp in Calais, 1,022 of which are alone. There are thousands more in camps across Europe living in unmanageable conditions with little or no support.
Joseph Al Fadhili, who turned six on 20th September, started asking his parents questions about the refugee crisis after watching youngsters on the news go about their daily lives in what is now known as the 'Jungle' camp.
The Moorlands Primary School student then took the selfless decision to give away all but one of his birthday presents in order to help those most deprived across The Channel.
Joseph said: “They don’t have any toys and they don’t have a house. I wanted to share my toys with them.”
FAMILY FUNDRAISER: Joseph (left) and his younger brother Ali (right) are beginning to understand how hard it is for children who live in the ‘Jungle’
Joseph’s Mum, Ala Altaie, said: “I have told my children, including Joseph’s two-year-old brother Ali, how the kids in Calais are having a bad time out there and how they’ve lost their things. They don’t have homes anymore and some now have to live in tents.”
Joseph’s dad, Firas Al Fadhili, admitted that he may have ‘spoilt the kids a bit when they were younger’ but was incredibly proud of his son’s kind gesture.
He said: “I always want him to appreciate things. That’s why we wanted to expose him to what was happening.
“Obviously not the violence of it, but the fact that some people in the world have nothing. Joseph asked how he could help because he didn’t have money. So I suggested that he could share his toys and he was more than happy to do so.”
The family have since set up a donation page if people want to give money instead, which has now reached nearly half of the £1,500 target.
Once they have collected all the donations, Joseph wants his dad to take him to Calais in the October half-term so he can hand the toys over himself.
Firas said: “We’re trying to make them understand that they’re lucky. We want them to realise that they can’t take all the things they get for granted - like education, toys and holidays.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to have security in this world. Joseph has been a wonderful boy all his life. He only ever comes back with one toy in the toy shop.”
He added: “I wouldn’t say Joseph speaks good Arabic but he understands it and his cousins speak French, so they may be able to communicate with the children if we do decide to go over there.”
TRAVELLING TEAM: The InTouch volunteers served over one thousand meals to refugees in the Jungle camp earlier this month
Refugees in Calais and families across Bradford were able to share in a Qurbani feast last weekend as a local charity ensured meat was there for all on both sides of the Channel.
The InTouch Foundation, which predominantly works across West Yorkshire via their mobile soup kitchen, worked around the clock to cook up meals and hand out packages of Qurbani meat.
Splitting into two groups of volunteers, one team distributed Qurbani to families in need at Islam Bradford, these families included both refugees and local residents that are struggling to put food on the table whilst the other visited the Jungle refugee camp in Calais to dish up thousands of hot meals.
Osman Gondal, CEO of the InTouch Foundation, explained why the charity had taken the decision to help ‘at home and overseas’ during the latest Eid celebrations.
“Following the success of the Qurbani distribution in Bradford over the past few years, we knew we wanted to do a similar project again this year but also wanted to see how we could help those most in need in the French refugee camps,” he said.
“We took the decision to run the Qurbani project at Islam Bradford once again to help local people, whilst a second group of volunteers travelled to Calais with a truck load of food.”
HAND-OVER: Volunteers spoke with those who came down to the Qurbani distribution
In total, 680 separate allocations of Qurbani (approximately 800kg’s) were handed out in Bradford with larger quantities for families and smaller for individuals.
Over 20 nationalities of people were served on the day locally this included people of many different faiths.
Meanwhile, over the Channel, thousands of refugees were also served up a feast as part of the InTouch Eid aid mission.
Ambassadors, Adil Anwar and Ahmad Hussain were amongst the travelling team alongside Osman and 13 other volunteers.
“We truly have an amazing team and are very fortunate to be able to carry out the work we do with the support of so many selfless individuals,” Osman explained.
“The team drove down to Calais in the InTouch van with it almost loaded to the brim with frozen food (Mince Curry and Khubz) that had been cooked by Sunrise Catering at no cost, meaning it just needed heating up when we got there. We also handed out Indian sweets that had been donated by KCB, and over 150 sleeping bags, The response was amazing.”
He added: “A big thank you to everyone who made this possible especially Jamalulail Ismail and Sofinee Harun for their continued hard work in the 'kitchen in calais'.”
LOCAL AID: Families and individuals from over 20 countries and all faiths were issued with Qurbani meat in Bradford
Earlier this month, six local men from Beeston visited the refugee camp in Dunkirk, Calais, to deliver around 500 hampers which were organised by local Leeds volunteers and children.
The mission was organised in the memory of 36 year-old Amjid Karim’s brother, Rashid, who passed away on 1st January 2015.
Amjid, a youth worker, wanted to do something that his brother would be proud of, so he cooked up a plan with Manazar Hussain, Naser Khan, Tack Maskin, Junade Akram and Sajid Hussain.
The giving group, aged between 24 and 36, decided to set sail to France to help and support refugees in camps in whichever way they could.
Prior to departure, the charitable chaps began raising funds for the trip, eventually bringing in £6,000 to help with the purchase of essentials such as gas, oil, fresh fruit and bread.
HAPPY: The trip put a smile on the faces of many refugees’, as well as the volunteers
Amjid said: “We were inundated with dummies, baby wipes, milk bottles, ibuprofen, paracetamol and all the basic medical care. The local community were so fantastic.
“There were a lot of vulnerable people out there, especially children, so our priority was to get these children shoes on their feet, food, energy bars and some gas in the tents.
“I wish I had recorded some of their reactions because their smiles are something money can’t buy.
“It’s that connection, that warmth, from both children and adults who are living their lives minute-to-minute - not knowing what tomorrow will bring.”
Amjid said there were between 2,500 to 3,000 people in the camp at Dunkirk in a ‘dire’ situation.
ESSENTIAL GOODS: Much needed items included fruit and eggs, which are high in nutrition and vitamins
He continued: “The queues in some of the camps snaked around for miles, with 300 people in each line. When we got to speak to the family members who had been in the camps for months on end, they basically told us that they wanted to go back to their own countries.
“However, due to the war and conflict they were stuck. They said it was not their choice. From what we’ve seen, they were really thankful for what we were doing for them. It becomes a duty. It’s a human crisis and you’re seeing it first-hand. Your heart actually bleeds for these people.”
As well as food supplies, Amjid and his group took footballs to the camp and played with the kids.
He said: “It was such a buzz to have a kick around. Words can’t explain the difference it made.
“Giving out chocolate bars, packet of crisps, fruit juices – it made those kids’ day. We also took over some clothes, jackets so that they could stay warm. It was like Eid or Christmas had come early for them.”
BAGS OF FUN: A young refugee girl receives a bag of goodies all the way from Beeston
Amjid didn’t advertise his trip in any shape or form but suggests that the young people of Yorkshire should go over there and ‘learn and appreciate what we take for granted in life’.
“Whether you’re Muslim, Catholic, Protestant or Atheist – it makes no difference. It is an eye-opener to see so many agencies out there,” he said.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to the local community and businesses who have contributed massively to this cause it just goes to show how caring these people are when it comes to think of those who are less fortunate than themselves.”
CHARITABLE HEART: Osman Gondal has monthly plans to visit the camps in Calais and Dunkirk
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.”
MUDDY CONDITIONS: The camp is a muddy environment and it is hard to keep up the happy spirits
“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.
BOXES OF FOOD AND CLOTHES: Volunteers arrive with much needed supplies for the migrants in the camps
“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.
SUPPLIES: The Harehills Refugee Aid team loaded four vans full of donations before they headed to the French refugee camps on Monday night
The donations have been made and the vans loaded. All that is left now is for the ‘Harehills Refugee Aid team’ to embark on their 300-mile-plus journey to Calais to hand out their goods.
After over a month of appeals and cash donations, the group of 12 from Leeds set off on their aid mission at midnight on Monday 4th January, in their fully stocked convoy.
Expecting to arrive at the French border around 10am the next day, the local community has come together to back the campaign, with their latest fundraiser seeing 18 teams compete in a football tournament last month.
Amongst those making the journey south is Sajad Sajawal, and he said prior to setting off, that the whole team were ready.
“The time for collecting is over and everyone just wants to get on with loading up these vans and helping the refugees,” he said.
“We have had a great response from local businesses and residents in Harehills, and feel prepared to make whatever difference we can in the camps.”
Donations made to the group in recent weeks included food, drinks, toys, hygiene products and tents.
Meanwhile, around £10,000 was also raised through donations from businesses and individuals.
“The money will ensure we can deliver aid to as many people as possible when we get down to Calais,” Sajad added.
“The idea is to distribute what we have in the vans as soon as we get there and then hit the shops to go refill once again.
“This way we can help twice as many people on the ground and make sure the donations are going where they should be.”
Jia Rahman, another volunteer from Harehills Refugee Aid, praised the efforts of the whole community over the past month.
“We have had about four weeks to get all of this sorted and to see how much support we have received is really amazing,” he said. “It goes to show how much we can achieve by working together.”
APPEAL: The Harehills Refugee Aid team are appealing for teams to take part in their fundraising football tournament ahead of their aid visit in the New Year
As refugees in Calais prepare to see in the New Year in their self-constructed camps, a team of determined fundraisers 300 miles away are readying themselves for an aid mission in 2016.
Under the banner ‘Harehills Refugee Aid’, a group of at least 12 volunteers will make the trip from Leeds to France on Wednesday 6th January, armed with multiple vanloads of supplies.
With over 20 local business pledging support, and members of the local community coming together with collections and donations, organisers say they feel the project has helped ‘unite Harehills’.
Sajad Sajawal, one of the men behind the appeal, explained: “For almost all of us, this will be the first time we go on an aid mission like this so we want it be done right.
“It started off with just eight or nine of us talking about the project and now it feels like all of Harehills is involved.
“Businesses and local residents have really got behind the project and we are still raising funds and collecting for the aid mission.”
The team are now arranging a football tournament this year to raise extra funds to purchase stock for the trip.
Held at Thomas Danby College on Sunday 27th December, 18 teams of seven, with two substitutes, will face off in the ‘Tournament of Hope’, held between 10am and 6pm.
“This is just the latest way we are trying to get people involved with the project and it is already shaping up to be a good tournament,” Sajad added.
Amongst the group travelling to Calais next year is Mukith Ali. He is one of the only volunteers to have previously carried out aid missions to France having already completed two visits in the last couple of months.
Explaining what the team were likely to expect come 6th January, he said: “You do not realise exactly how bad the conditions at these camps are until you get there.
“The last trip I went on was really rewarding and I want this group to have that same feeling, that we know we have helped some families.”
If you would like to register a team for the ‘Tournament of Hope’ please contact Tavseef Rashid on 07867 625715.