Swindon couple work in Calais with refugee charity

By Swindon Link - 9 February 2022


Social campaigner and volunteer Kate Linnegar and her partner have been working in Calais as part of the Care4Calais support group.

On February 4, Kate and her partner Rob travelled with Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity to Calais to work with the refugee support group Care4Calais.

Swindon residents may remember Kate as she was previously the North Swindon pros. Labour parliamentary candidate for the 2019 election.

She has written an excerpt detailing her experiences with Care4Calais.

"Three cars crammed with seven volunteers, heaps of food, clothing, blankets and sleeping bags lovingly donated by friends and family, arrived at the hostel in Calais at about 9pm.

Saturday and Sunday were long, cold and tiring days, sorting aid for the day’s distribution and donations in the warehouse. 

There’s a mountain of work to do in time for the afternoon, when volunteers head out to meet the refugees.

Care4Calais runs an well organised operation delivering emergency aid seven days a week, going to different sites on different days. Since the ‘jungle’ was dismantled there are no camps as such. The French police move the refugees every couple of days, waking them in the night and taking their possessions.

It’s known as the politics of exhaustion. It is paid for by British taxpayers.

The refugees know where Care4Calais will be and can be seen walking in small groups or alone for miles towards the rendezvous as the distribution time approaches. 

Saturday afternoon, around 500 people could be seen queuing in the bitterly cold wind. 

We gave out 300 pairs of boots and socks. There weren’t enough for everyone so they had to choose boots or a power pack to charge their phones. I spoke to a 25 year old who tries to speak to his mum back in Sudan every day. These young men often appear shy or traumatised so don’t give much away but this lad said he was the middle child and his dad was dead.

There’s a lot of banter, smiles and joking on the surface but I do wonder what these very young men have witnessed and had to endure. 

Care4Calais also distributes food packs and toiletries on different days. 

"What shocked me most was the fact that they have made it illegal to feed refugees. During our briefing we learnt that there’s been a “food ban” in Calais for more than a year now.

"The ban originally made it illegal to give people food in certain parts of the town, but over time the area covered has grown. It’s now so big that it’s getting harder and harder to get food to refugees who need it. What sort of society can ban people giving other human beings food?" said Rob.

At each distribution there are other services set up too. Power banks are charged from generators, where they charge their phones. This is so popular that the refugees help carry the boards and get the generators in place as quickly as possible.

Also very popular is the hairdressing station where clippers, scissors and razors are used, often styling each other's hair, the talented refugee barbers provide some entertainment as well. There are hot drinks, water and a games station.

Dominoes is played fast and furious, with much animation and chattering. One of the biggest problems for refugees is boredom so they gather round keenly watching and waiting for their turn to play.

I sat at the sewing station, doing repairs and Simon, a 20 year old from South Sudan sat quietly beside me reading a book about English football teams. There are a selection of books, and the opportunity to use the sewing kit, bike repair kit and glue, mostly used for glueing up footwear. He was shy about talking about himself but happy to tell me that Arsenal had broken his heart too many times, so he is now a Man U supporter.

He also thread the needle for me again and again as his eyesight is better than mine. As a mum, I thought about how I worry for my 22 and 25 year old children's future, and they are both still in Swindon. I wondered how Simon's mum copes with her young son being so far from home in such dangerous circumstances.

The Global Peace Index lists the 28 most dangerous countries in the world. Afghanistan is ranked as number one, Syria as two, Iraq as three and South Sudan as number four;  these people are fleeing the worst and most dangerous countries on this planet. 

On Sunday, tarpaulins and sleeping bags were distributed to a smaller group at a different site about six miles from the first. Some familiar faces were there. They will walk for miles to receive aid, often helping to set up and put away the equipment.

Sunday was bitterly cold and muddy. The rain had been torrential during the night and most of the morning. The refugees were very cold and wet, some kept warm by playing football which they love if a football is available and are pretty good at it too! 

Standing quietly amongst that surreal situation, it was possible to see loners deep in thought with haunted eyes, a lad trying to clean the mud from his shoes and trouser legs with some tissues, animated faces at the domino game, a quiet discussion between a volunteer and a 17 year old refugee who was in tears.

Then it’s time to pack up. The refugees disappear in different directions to find a safe place to hide for the night. Much of the scrubland has been cleared to deprive them of shelter and wood for fires. 

I spoke to other volunteers who said that they felt similar emotions; the horribly sad realisation that we had no choice but to leave these young men in the biting wind and rain as it started to get dark, returning to our safe warm homes.

I could feel tears pricking my eyes but would not cry in front of these brave resilient people. I also felt so angry which is why I wanted to share their circumstances which are totally inhumane and unnecessary. There’s loads of information on the Care4Calais website for anyone that’s interested."

Kate Linnegar provided all images used and added some useful links with more information below:





Your Comments

Be the first to comment on this article

Login or Register to post a comment on this article

Subscribe to The Link

Registered in England & Wales. No: 4513027, Positive Media Group, Old Bank House, 5 Devizes Road, Old Town, Swindon, SN1 4BJ