The week before l arrived in Dunkirk a huge eviction had taken place; Whilst about 65 families slept in the ditches and woods, the police and security guards entered the camp and removed all their sleeping bags and possessions and herded them into waiting coaches. They were then scattered around France and put into ‘Centres d’Accueil et Orientation’ (CAO). Many children who have made friends in the camp are split up which is another loss for the child. This is a frightening place for mums and children. Reports are that refugees staying in CAOs receive only one meal a day and babies are only given one nappy a day.
It is unsurprising that, before long, many had returned to Dunkirk where they know they will be supported by volunteers.
As l entered the camp l immediately saw and felt the despair. Groups of young families sitting on a piece of waste land. Many were just sitting there gazing at the ground.
Each day in the early afternoon they gather round and wait for any items that they had asked for the day before. It may be nappies, socks, water, and obviously everyday baby wipes are needed as this is the only way they are able to wash themselves and their children. The men tend to wash in the river but l guess culturally this would not be unacceptable for the women.
We talked to mothers with young babies about trying to keep their babies safe. We suggested getting rid of the bottles and using small plastic cups which will be a lot easier to keep clean. Many wanted advice on breastfeeding and although there is a huge language barrier they were so keen to understand what we were trying to tell them. Don’t we all want to know how to keep at babies safe?
My heart went out to a young mum sitting on the ground cuddling her baby, she was sobbing and her 5 year old daughter was trying to comfort her. No child should be witnessing their mother in such despair.
A few feet away were two young women looking unbelievable sad. They looked helpless as if they really couldn’t go on. A 7 year old boy was sitting beside them. I went over and sat beside them. We tried to communicate but this was so difficult. Emma then got the language app on her phone and tapped in “l care and hope you will be safe soon.” l looked towards the little lad and noticed his huge brown eyes were filled with tears. I sat and gently stroked his face. By this time his mother and friend were also crying. The little lad leaned over to his mother and began to stoke her face as l had done to him. That completely finished me off and it was now my turn to let the tears flow.
I then went over to a larger group of mums and children. The elder of the mums sat next to me holding her knees. “Painful so painful” she said. It was then that l realised that the young 18 year old sitting beside her in a wheelchair was her eldest son. This lad was severely disabled after a dreadful accident when he was 5 years old. I had to question how this poor mother was able to push this lad around in a wheel chair over such rough ground. I was then informed that the mum had cancer. I cannot imagine what life must have been like in Iraq for her to have made this horrendous journey. With their life being threatened every day l’m guessing anything has to be better than the life they have left behind.
When walking around the camp it is very obvious than the men all congregate together. Although this seems strange for us we have to remember that culturally women would be at home with the children while their men are out working. I have to say that the men were also walking around looking totally bewildered.
For months now the police and security go into the camp at night waking them up pointing tear gas into their eyes, pepper spraying their blankets (so they can’t be used again) and removing their sleeping bags and possessions. If that isn’t enough can you imagine for a child to be woken up in this way. When l was talking to a 7 year old about the police he indicated to me that he had been hit.
How can this be right?
So what can be done? We certainly need more awareness in the UK. This appalling behaviour is happening 30 minutes by train from our coastline. So l put on talks about my experiences within the camps, which enables me to tell people what is happening in France and what we can do about it. Raising money is essential as all that is being provided to the mums and children is provided by volunteers.
When l go over l take donated money so l can respond to the families needs immediately. In the past they have run out of nappies, underwear (as they are unable to wash anything) food, warm clothes, blankets and sleeping bags. It is lovely to give them a few treats as well.
I give talks about my experiences within the camps which enable me to tell people what is happening in France and the inhumane treatment that is happening on a daily basis.
QUOTES FROM MOTHERS
How do l keep my children safe?
My children are cold at night
What l want more than anything else is to be able to give my baby a warm bath
Never under estimate the value of the human touch, kindness, and respect.
YES I DID SEE INHUMANE TREATMENT, BUT I ALSO OBSERVED HUMANITY BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND FROM THE AMAZING VOLUNTEERS .
If anyone would like to help fundraise or collect sleeping bags, blankets and pop up tents or support the Infant feeding team l would love to hear from you.