'No socks and wet tents' Welsh volunteers despair over conditions facing migrants in Calais

Volunteers from Wales are part of the crew distributing food to migrants in Calais. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Ten minutes from the centre of Calais, you will find a bleak landscape. 

Tents and unofficial campsites camouflaged amongst the trees and long grass of the wasteland outside the city centre. This is home for many of the 2,000 migrants who live in the city port. 

The drone of the French motorway is only broken by the sound of the volunteers walking from campsite to campsite, offering food for those who find themselves sleeping in the harshest of conditions. 

Andy, Helen and Steve have all travelled from Cardiff with donations to give to migrants in Calais. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Steve Williams, Helen Moseley and Andy Coleman have all travelled from Cardiff with donations to join the charity Care4Calais. 

“Look at the situation around us. People are coming from the tents with no socks, nothing like that. The conditions are so bad. They try to dry clothes, but it is so wet and so cold, there are no dry clothes,” says Steve. 

The three volunteers are representing Oasis, a centre which supports refugees and asylum seekers in Cardiff.

“They don't want to leave their family, they just want to be safe, they just want some kind of life, because they can't go back”, says Helen Moseley.

“The obvious thing from the people we speak to is they talk about their CVs, they say ‘we have something to offer, we want to give back towards the system’”.

Camps are often cleared by authorities, leaving piles of rubbish and belongings. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

The Care4Calais team also provide hair cutting tools and mobile phone charging points to improve the quality of life for those camping nearby. One of those who has come to use the facilities is 20-year-old Arram, who fled his native country Sudan. “Sudan is problem, because there’s always fighting, they say like I’m going to kill your family, dad, mam, sister, brothers. UK, it’s nice, there you will be safe, and another thing is you can find a job. It’s not like here, Europe is very difficult."

Arram says the conditions in Calais are very hard. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Arram has been in Calais for six months and is desperate to reach the UK. "I’m trying by lorry, by boat but it’s crazy.  By boat, sometimes if you don’t have money you cannot go. You have to pay maybe like 2,000. 1000, it’s too expensive.  It’s very dangerous. Sometimes people die. Breaking hands, it’s not easy. When you have a dream, you can do anything to follow it.”

The UK Government has come under pressure and scrutiny over immigration.

A record 45,756 migrants crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats in 2022 - an increase of more than 60% since 2021. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has made it one of his five key pledges to tackle the issue, promising to pass new laws to "stop small boats" arriving on the UK's shores

One of the UK Government’s most controversial plans includes sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda. The five-year trial will see some sent to the country on a one-way ticket, to claim asylum there.

In an interview with current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar, the Welsh Secretary David TC Davies said the scheme should act as a deterrent to tackle the growing problem of small boats crossing the Channel. 

“We do want to deter people from risking their lives on the Channel and also from handing over vast amounts of money to people smugglers, so of course we want to deter people from doing that, but we’re also saying if people are really genuinely fleeing from oppression and are at risk of their lives then obviously Rwanda is a safe country to go to. We have to be able to enforce our borders and control how many people come in.”

The scheme has attracted criticism with protests taking place outside parliament calling for the policy to be abolished. It comes after the UK's High Court ruled that the Rwanda plan was lawful in December 2022. 

“It’s used a frightening tool,” says Andy Coleman, one of the volunteers in Calais.  “Consequently refugees are scared about it because they’ve been told they’re going to be sent to Rwanda, apparently the suicide rate has gone up amongst refugees as a results of this, so my thoughts are not very complimentary about it.”

Groups of people live among the wasteland in Northern France. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

In a statement, the Home Office said: “We have welcomed hundreds of thousands of people through our safe and legal asylum routes.  

“However, the significant increase of small boats arrivals has caused an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and nobody should put their lives at risk by taking dangerous and illegal journeys crossing the Channel.’’

You can watch the entire Y Byd ar Bedwar programme on Monday 13 February at 8:00pm on S4C, S4C Clic or iPlayer.