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.
Cast: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney
Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in. Dunkirk features a prestigious cast, including Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Wolf Hall), Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Hamlet, Henry V) and Cillian Murphy (Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy), as well as newcomer Fionn Whitehead. The ensemble cast also includes Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney.
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.
CONVOY: The SKT Welfare team distributed goods to refugee camps in France and Belgium
Yorkshire convoy return from the Jungle
A convoy of ten fully-loaded vans set off from Bradford to France last weekend as 35 volunteers made the 300-mile journey over the English Channel to distribute aid to refugees.
The team, representing the SKT Welfare Charity, drove to the Grand-Synthe Refugee Camp in Dunkirk, where over 300 fleeing people are currently staying in cramped conditions.
Distributing food, clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, tents and other essential items, the team met with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and witnessed the ‘shocking’ accommodation, some were living in.
Makeshift tents were propped up with cardboard boxes and pallets, whilst wind blew through the sheets.
With winter months coming up, the distribution team also delivered ‘winter warmer packs’ – including hats, gloves and warm clothing, to fight against the cold.
AID: The Little Brussels Camp was visited by the group on their three-day aid mission
Food items were also delivered in Dunkirk to the Al-Salam Charity’s warehouse, where a French team of volunteers will cook and distribute the goods to two refugee camps in the region.
During the three-day trip, the SKT Welfare team also drove over to Brussels, Belgium, after hearing of further Syrian refugees who were in need of ‘urgent help’ in a separate camp.
Upon arrival at the Maximillian Park Refugee Camp, the team once again witnessed crowds in huge number with almost 1,000 refugees from middle-eastern and African countries.
Once again, food, winter warmer and aid packs were handed out before the team visited the smaller ‘Little Castle Refugee Centre’ to complete their aid mission.
Worldwide figures suggest that the number of refugees currently stands at over 50million for the first time.
Syria, which has been at the centre of much news in recent years, has seen more than four-million refugees flee, with 12.8 million people still in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside the country.