Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

How one Briton went to join others helping migrants in Calais camp

Libby Freeman from Hackney in east London was so moved by the reports of migrants living in Calais she went to help.

Here she writes for ITV News about what life is really like for those who risk their lives to get to Britain.

Libby taking supplies to the 'Jungle' camp in Calais. Credit: Libby Freeman

On Monday I drove my van to the refugee camps of Calais.

I was frustrated and deeply saddened by the reports of thousands of human beings living like animals, with no support whatsoever.

After some research I found there were grassroots teams of people doing all they can to provide basic supplies to the 3,000 men, women and children there.

The support this end was overwhelming and in 10 days I had £1,000 to spend on desperately needed sanitary products and food.

Libby reaches Calais after crossing the Channel Tunnel. Credit: Libby Freeman

With an offer of a second van, we worked extra hard to fill them both with collected tents, camping equipment, clothes, shoes and other desperately needed items.

Everyone gave so generously we managed this easily.

With three in each van we crossed the Channel Tunnel and headed for an aid drop off point.

A boy stands outside a tent in the makeshift camp. Credit: Libby Freeman

There were men waiting outside, sheltering from the rain with cardboard boxes and no shoes.

The hugely overstretched volunteers distribute the donations to people from the centre of Calais.

They have to walk for miles there and back just to get what they need.

There are so little resources there that simply not having a pair of shoes does not mean you will be handed any.

Priority goes to those with infections, or injuries. Many have injured feet and ankles from falling from the trains.

Still they offered to help us carry the boxes into the building and although the mood was extremely solemn they were gentle and welcoming.

A makeshift church at the camp. Credit: Libby Freeman

From there we headed to the Jungle, the name used for the refugee camp.

We were warmly welcomed and given tea in a makeshift restaurant.

The men working there tell us that all they want to do is have a life away from conflict.

They want to work and pay taxes in a place that will give them a life they deserve.

Part of the 'Jungle' camp where migrants from Afghanistan are living. Credit: Libby Freeman

When I first decided I needed to go to help, I was scared of a dangerous, out of control situation. This was fuelled by the media, my only source of information.

I found an amazing online organisation called Calais Migrants Solidarity and soon realised that this wasn’t the case.

Now I have been, I can safely say it was one of the most welcoming, community driven places I have ever been to.

I never felt unsafe and everyone I met wanted to chat and share their stories.

A group of migrants play football at the camp. Credit: Libby Freeman

The migrants have all come from places of extreme unrest, such as Afghanistan, Libya, Eritrea and Syria.

Everyone has made epic, mind-blowingly dangerous journeys fleeing persecution and death.

I met a man named David, who had fled Ethiopia with his wife.

They crossed the Sahara dessert and boats over the Mediterranean watching many of their friends die along the way, usually women and children.

Each night they run hand in hand, trying to jump onto a train.

He wanted to tell the people of Britain that they know what is written about them. That they are not terrorists or criminals. They are peaceful people, who just want a normal life.

The migrants say they just want to live in a safe place where they can lead a normal life. Credit: Libby Freeman

Another boy I met, in his mid twenties, had been separated from his family during conflict when he was just four years old.

He recently found out that they were in the UK and he’s trying to reach them, but no one will help.

The situation in Calais right now is dire and with more and more displaced people arriving and winter approaching it is only going to get worse.

Graffiti near the camp proclaims England to be where the 'good life' is. Credit: Libby Freeman

The conditions are worse than I expected, but the spirit, openness and warmth of the people far surpass anything I ever imagined.

It was extremely difficult and upsetting to leave later on that evening knowing our new friends were starting a night risking their lives and sleeping on a cold floor.

We were going to easily cross a border to somewhere so many so desperately wanted to be, based only on the lottery of where we were born.

Some newspapers are putting out stories portraying a completely false situation, which is dangerous as these people need help and quick.

Along with our government completely turning their backs on this humanitarian crisis, it is a bleak situation.

I’m planning my next trip back in a few weeks, with the aim to stay for a few days.

Without people taking things into their own hands these extraordinary human beings will continue to die in desperation for a life we all take for granted.

Here Libby Freeman speaks to ITV News London about her trip.

Libby Freeman's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News