More than the bare minimum

CamCRAG Volunteer Convoy Group in Calais September 2023

Balqiis reports on another productive weekend in Calais

Volunteering for CamCRAG in Calais is not just about helping to provide the bare necessities for refugees in the area: It was emphasised to us that it is also about reaffirming their humanity.

The work involved a great deal of personal responsibility: When sorting and cleaning tents and sleeping bags, the onus was on us to decide which should be kept, and which should be scrapped. If we would not feel comfortable giving it to someone else, or using it ourselves, then it’s not good enough for refugees either.

I was told that on average a tent lasts just three days before the police destroy it, but despite this great care was taken to ensure that every tent and sleeping bag distributed was clean enough to be comfortable, at least for a few nights.

My time in the kitchen reflected this emphasis on reaffirming peoples’ dignity. Together we peeled and crushed hundreds of garlic cloves, and poured kilos of chilli into an industrial-sized pot, to make chilli oil. Why spend so much time and effort preparing a condiment? Because by providing such extras and side dishes, the refugees can season their food to taste, thus returning a little bit of agency to people who, for much of their journey, have had few choices regarding the food they eat, or anything else.

Overall the convoy weekend was enjoyable, the volunteers I met were pleasant and kind, and great care was taken to remind us that aiding refugees is about more than just providing the bare minimum.