CamCRAG is a registered charity who organise regular weekend volunteer convoys from Cambridge to Calais. We also collect donations and funds to help refugees in Europe and beyond.
CamCRAG is a registered charity who organise regular weekend volunteer convoys from Cambridge to Calais. We also collect donations and funds to help refugees in Europe and beyond.
march 2024 convoy group

Latest news from Calais

Catharine reports on March’s volunteer convoy to Calais and updates us on the ever changing situation and role of CamCRAG volunteers with the NGOs operating there.

refugees welcome sign in Calais

Many of the volunteers who join CamCRAG convoys have strong personal reasons for wanting to help refugees, but it was a wonderful first in March to have with us the daughter of someone who crossed to the UK via Calais to seek asylum over 20 years ago. You can read more about his story at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1869263.stm

Since coming to the UK he has built a life as an author and poet, and now his child is studying at one of the world’s top universities – and taking part in a CamCRAG convoy!

Sadly, the situation has still not improved for people trapped in Calais who want to build new lives in the UK. When CamCRAG was founded in 2015, the UK was paying around £10m a year to the French government for extra policing, fences and razor wire. In March last year, the UK government announced spending of £124m in 2023/4, rising to £184m in 2025/6. This pays for drones, dog patrols, heat sensors and even helicopters, but not for basic services, such as showers, toilets or reception centres. It is all about deterrence.

Instead, key services are provided by the NGOs we support: associations based in Calais and Dunkirk who fight to maintain respect for the dignity and human rights of people who find themselves in a horrible situation. Working for an NGO is exhilarating and rewarding. There is an amazing sense of camaraderie and purpose. But it is also a very intense emotional experience and new volunteers are always needed.

Typically, long-term volunteers in Calais stay for a month or two, while managers take contracts for between 6 months and, in some cases, several years. As a group that has been visiting Calais for almost a decade, we’ve seen many new faces and said goodbye to many old friends at the Auberge des Migrants warehouse. They are all brave, compassionate people doing a difficult job.

Often the groups in the warehouse are so short of volunteers at the weekend that, although there is much to do, they have no one available to come and give us jobs. Fortunately, they all support each other and this weekend, Sand and Andy, from Refugee Community Kitchen, were able to show us the nappies that needed packing and the large tents that needed checking for the Refugee Women’s Centre.

chopping in the woodyard

The team also prepped a whole sack of garlic; chopped 6 litres of aubergines, 10 litres of sweet potatoes, and 4 litres of onions; made a huge pile of flatbreads; cleaned a large pan of big utensils and the entire dishpit; sharpened knives; emptied the rat-proof bins; ground up masses of black pepper and cardamom; and bagged up 1200 bags of dates for iftar.

Meanwhile, the woodyard is still going strong and offered the opportunity for some hot action shots of CamCRAGgers wielding big axes and shattering bits of wood all over the floor. We’re considering making a calendar…

On Sunday we helped Collective Aid move and count their Non-Food Items (NFI), such as tents, sleeping bags, etc, into the storage containers on site as they are moving most of their operations to the WASH centre in the centre of the city. This is a drop-in centre where up to 15 clients at a time can do their laundry, have a shave, play games, pray, and learn some English. Other groups, such as the Asylum Support Team, Medecins Sans Frontières and First Aid Support Team, run sessions there during the week.

Crag corner in warehouse

Collective Aid will continue to provide hygiene packs, basic necessities such as underwear and socks, tents and sleeping bags – they are distributing around 150 tents and 300 sleeping bags a week at the moment – but will no longer offer coats and shoes. These are very much needed but storage for bulk quantities of these items is expensive. Fundraising is very challenging in the current economic climate so Collective Aid really value our support and have even named an area of the WASH centre ‘Crag Corner’ in our honour.

The collaborative effort across Calais and Dunkirk means that all the groups are now in much more regular contact with each other than was previously the case. Care4Calais run a large NFI warehouse on the other side of the city but distributions are now coordinated with the Auberge des Migrants groups to avoid duplication.

Care4Calais do mass distributions of single items, including eviction response when the police confiscate tents, leaving people with nowhere to sleep. A small team of us joined them to distribute 450 raincoats on Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, the sun was shining as people had to queue for up to two hours to ensure everyone had a chance to choose and try on a coat. Phone charging, hot drinks and bicycle repairs were also offered, as well as a vigorous game of football.

Litterpick crew March 2024 convoy

A small team went up to Dunkirk to join Roots for a litterpick in the camp there on Sunday. The fine weather on Saturday didn’t hold and they had a very soggy morning tidying up the areas around the water points to make them as clean and accessible as possible. We’ve been joining Roots for litterpicks quite regularly on convoys and expect that this will continue.

In fact, it is likely that future convoys will become a bit more dispersed as teams go to the WASH centre to pack hygiene items, the kitchen to prep food, out in the field litterpicking or over to Care4Calais for warehouse work and distributions.

Volunteers will choose which jobs they do and we will never urge you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Going into living spaces is not for everyone and nor are distributions so we will continue to recommend that only experienced volunteers opt for these jobs. But there’ll always be pizza and chat for everyone. See you all on a convoy soon.

Find out more about our volunteer convoys and how to join the next one at camcrag.org.uk/convoys

march 2024 convoy group
Thank you to all our CamCRAG volunteers on the March 2024 convoy