Recycle your bicycle for refugees

Written by Nisha, Dulwich Hamlet supporter

Dulwich2Dunkirk, Dulwich Hamlet FC, The Supporters Trust and The Bike Project are teaming up to collect bicycles for refugees and those seeking asylum this Saturday (17 December) at a home game between Dulwich Hamlet and Tonbridge Angels.

Denmark Hill-based charity, the Bike Project works with volunteers to refurbish second-hand cycles and donates them to refugees giving them much needed independence while on a low income. A donated bicycle can save a refugee £20 each week, which mounts up to over £1000 per year.

Nicola Hill, from the Bike Project, said: “London is a city that is rich in opportunities, but transport can be really expensive, especially for asylum seekers who survive on as little as £36 per week.

“A bike from The Bike Project can make it that bit easier to reach the many resources that London has to offer: charities that can feed them, lawyers that can aid their application process, home office appointments, healthcare, English classes and much more.

“If they are lucky enough to receive status, a bike can also help to find employment.”

As well as providing donated bikes, the charity also offers the chance to learn bicycle maintenance and offers dedicated training sessions to women.

“The Bike Project does not only donate bikes, but also provides a regular space within the local community for refugees and asylum seekers to learn how to maintain their bike.

“Our South London workshop is open every Thursday evening for volunteering, where the mechanics team more experienced people to work with less experienced people, so everyone gets to learn stuff and have a chat too.

“On Wednesdays we offer a specific training programme for women only, many of whom may have never ridden a bike before as cycling, was not considered appropriate in the places that they come from”, said Nicola.

Dulwich2Dunkirk member, Dave Rogers is taking the lead on Saturday’s initiative. Dave said: “I got chatting with the Bike Project at the Goose Green Fair over the summer.

“We’re really impressed with the work they do. So we decided to build on our work helping refugees in France and the UK by holding a bike collection at next Saturday’s game.

“We already have two bikes pledged and we’ve had such a brilliant response from our community with our previous collections, we are hoping our fans can bring down more bikes on the day.”

You can bring along unwanted adults bikes this Saturday (17 December 2016) at Champion Hill, kick off is at 3pm.

Dulwich Hamlet Football Club
Champion Hill Stadium,
Edgar Kail Way,
SE22 8BD

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Shelters removed at overcrowded refugee camp in Dunkirk

Post by Nisha, Dulwich Hamlet supporter

The organisation which runs La Linière camp, in Grande-Synthe, on the outskirts of Dunkirk, have been removing refugee shelters in a bid to reduce capacity at the camp.

The removal of shelters is part of an overall plan to reduce capacity to just 300 spaces by the end of the year, with a view to closing the camp entirely shortly after that, a move which has been condemned by MSF.

Earlier this month is was announced that new arrivals would not be admitted to the camp, with no exceptions made for particularly vulnerable people such as minors, families, pregnant women or the elderly.

Shelters being removed at La Linere. Photos via Hafsa Benbourek.

However, the camp remains overcrowded. The shelters, which were built by MSF and volunteers earlier this year, were originally intended to house four refugees each. Local volunteers have estimated that up to eight residents are living in each shelter, with some residents sleeping in porches and in community kitchens.

Overcrowding isn’t the only problem in the camp. Food is scarce and there is a lack of fuel and blankets in the camp. It’s being left to independent volunteers such as Hafsa Benbourek to raise funds to meet the residents needs.

Hafsa said: “It’s already cold in Grande-Synthe, the refugees desperately need winter essentials which are not being provided by the camp management or the government. There are refugees of all ages, including babies and pregnant women, who are cold, hungry and need help.”

With Calais camp being closed this week, there is a palpable fear that vulnerable men, women and children who arrive on the french coast in the coming days and weeks will have no choice but to sleep rough with little support from volunteers.

Franck Esnee, MSF Head of Mission in France, said:  “Blocking new arrivals from accessing the camp is all the more baffling given the impending dismantling of the Calais ‘Jungle’. Where should the refugees and migrants who come to La Linière camp go instead? This decision has been taken hastily, without thought for the consequences, and without proposing alternative solutions. All those who refuse to abandon their dream of getting to England will have to find shelter somewhere!”

Forcing people back into doorways, squats and fields of northern France means forcing them underground. It will be harder for organisations and volunteers to support them with food, clothes, blankets and other vital life saving support.

“This policy of systematically destroying existing camps and preventing the construction of new ones will lead nowhere. Without alternative plans to provide shelter, individuals, families, and even unaccompanied children, will be condemned to survive the winter as vagrants, destitute and vulnerable to violence,” said Esnee.

The French government might not want large camps such as Calais and La Linière bringing public shame and scrutiny. However, the reality is that closing these camps will lead to even more smaller encampments, smaller ‘jungles’, littered across the French countryside with increasingly desperate conditions.  As Esnee says as winter approaches this puts the lives of vulnerable people at risk. However, perhaps for the authorities out of sight is out of mind.

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Dulwich2Dunkirk gets up to speed on the UK asylum system

Recently Dulwich2Dunkirk and, human rights charity, Right to Remain came together for a workshop on supporting people through the UK asylum system.

Held at DIY Space for London, the workshop provided an overview of the asylum process and how to best support people seeking the right to remain in the UK.

Right to Remain works with groups across the UK supporting people to establish their right to remain with dignity, safety and humanity, and to challenge the injustice of the immigration and asylum system.

Right to Remain Coordinator, Michael Collins, said: “The workshop was the first of a new programme of workshops to link up Dunkirk/Calais volunteering with supporting newly arrived refugees as they start the asylum process in the UK.

“The government have announced further measures to make it even harder for refugees to apply for sanctuary in the UK. Our work is all about practical solidarity, self help and mutual aid, to overcome the barriers to justice.”

Since September 2015, Dulwich2Dunkirk has been supporting refugees in the camps northern France and further afield. During that time many camp residents have arrived in the UK and some have looked to us for support and advice. This workshop was a first step in ensuring that we can provide the appropriate levels of support to new arrivals including sign posting to specialist services.

Dulwich2Dunkirk co-founder, Nisha Damji, said: “With more and more of our friends from the camps making it over to the UK, it’s incredibly useful to be part of this workshop and to have access to resources such as the Right to Remain Toolkit. It’s essential reading for anyone going through the system and those that support them.”

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Dulwich2Dunkirk to hold food collection at refugee football match

Dulwich2Dunkirk has joined forces with UK Action for Refugees to collect non-perishable food at a charity football match between Dulwich Hamlet FC and FC Assryia on Wednesday  (9 March 2016).

We are asking our supporters, friends and family to bring us tinned and dried food such as beans and rice, which will be donated to people living in camps in France, Syria and refugees in the UK who struggle to make ends meet.

UK Action For Refugees are sending a number of containers of aid and supplies out to Syria, the first of which left in February.

Dulwich2Dunkirk co-founder and Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust Board member Jack Spearman,  said: “We have been to the camps a number of times since October delivering food, sleeping bags and other supplies. I’ve seen how much difference the donations make, even a bag of rice or a tin of chickpeas helps.”

What to bring

  • Cans of lentils and beans – ring pull cans
  • Cans of vegetables, fruit or fish – ring pull cans
  • Oil or ghee12735828_10156489509480246_2040551007_n
  • Rice
  • Nuts
  • Long life pitta bread
  • Instant porridge and soup
  • Condensed or UHT Milk
  • Baby food
  • Dried fruit
  • Cereal Bars
  • Spices
  • Pasta

Bring your donations along to the match between Dulwich Hamlet vs FC Assyria next wednesday (9 March 2016). Kick off is at 7.45pm at Champion Hill Stadium, Edgar Kail Way, East Dulwich. The collection point will be in the club house and will be open from 7pm.

Entrance: £5 for adults, £2 concessions, under 12s go free. All money raised on the night will be split between the Syrian Red Cross Appeal and Southwark Refugee Communities Forum.

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They’re still there

Written by Valerie, Stade Rennais supporter

As I go back to my warm house and my comfortable life after a weekend spent in Calais and Dunkerque refugee camps, I can’t shake off the thought that the people I saw and met are still there. I knew what to expect, so nothing surprised me in the camps; not the lack of facilities, not the mud and certainly not the desperation. But the ‘normality’ of it brings much sadness. However long they last, these squalid conditions are currently the norm for residents.

Don’t be fooled by the sprouts of capitalism that have emerged in Calais in the form of little wooden shops, nor by the jolly “Welcome to the City” sign at the entrance. Beyond this is a sea of tents barely good enough for an English summer, let alone for a cold and rainy winter. Don’t be fooled either by the smiles and the friendly greetings. Everyone here is desperate, everyone is hoping for something better. You wait, you hope. And in the meantime you live here as best as you can.

I’m an ordinary 43-year-old French woman living in London. I can’t say that I have any solution to offer, and the problem is much too complex for me to delve into the how and the why. So I choose not to think about it; I choose to concentrate on the now. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, the fact is that people are in the camps now, living in this desperate ‘norm’ they have been forced into. So if I could do something to help, I thought I should.  Since December, I’ve been baking for friends and family to raise money to help feed the people in the camps. All the proceeds go to ‘Kitchen in Calais‘, a small group of volunteers cooking much-needed meals for the refugees every day.

With the support of my friends and family, my recent collection allowed me to buy 80kg of lentils, 20kg of chicken, 100 cucumbers, 4kg of spices, 1,000 serving plates and some bottled gas. That might not sound like much, but it was enough for a meal for a thousand residents. If four people could buy a thousand meals every day…

Started a few months ago in a small caravan turned food van, Kitchen in Calais has slowly grown and now prepares more than a thousand servings a day, as well as countless cups of tea. At the heart of this formidable team is Sofinee, one of the most upbeat people I have ever met. Her infectious laugh makes you want to smile whatever the circumstances. But don’t stop peeling those potatoes as Sofinee has no time for slackers. She rules her kitchen with a no-nonsense attitude focused on one thing only: delivering the daily meal that residents of the camp have come to rely on. She is all too aware of the fact that she can’t cater for all of them, and that saddens her. She wonders how long this situation will last, how long she will be able to help and what will become of the camp and its residents. But for now, she keeps cooking.

It was my love of everything culinary that drew me to Sofinee and her kitchen. While cooking is not my job, I am a bit obsessed with it. I love nothing more than spending time in my kitchen making pastry the way my granny taught me or burning my fingers on caramel. So not only is my charity collection very easy to run, it also allows me to do something I love for a good cause. I would urge you to think of any hobby of yours that you might be able to turn into a not-for-profit money making scheme. No help is too small, and your project doesn’t need to stretch your abilities.

Back in Dunkerque, the norm is ankle-deep mud. The norm is for helpers to have to smuggle into the camp any item that the police prohibits, like small gas canisters that will give a family a hot meal that evening. The norm is going hungry if you have no cooking equipment, cold and wet if you have no roof. On the first evening I met two men who had just arrived, who hadn’t slept for four days and who were barely managing to stand up while trying to put up a tent that they did not understand.

They didn’t even have a plastic sheet to put on the ground.

And then there is the dirt. Before leaving, the team I was involved with organised a litter picking mission, a much-needed effort since the residents do not have any of the facilities they would need to keep the place clean.

We went from tent to tent picking up the litter that was inevitably surrounding residents’ ‘homes’, from dirty nappies to discarded packaging and unsuitable clothing. Rats were running away as we rummaged through piles of rubbish. “We’re used to them now”, said two women who peeked out of their tents as we were clearing around it. I guess they are still there.

For more information or to support Sofinee’s kitchen without leaving your sofa, order something delicious from Valeries Calories on Facebook or get in touch with Valerie via email.

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Find out more about how we help residents in the camps

Last night a DJ saved my life

Written by Sarah, Easton Cowboys supporter

A strange thing happens when you return from volunteering in the refugee camps in France, obviously I can’t speak for everyone who has gone to help, there are hundreds perhaps thousands, but from the few dozen or so I’ve spoken to it seems the response is pretty universal.

You’re overwhelmed, to the point of inertia.

After I returned from helping at the Dunkirk refugee camp as part of one of the waste and sanitation teams, something changed in me. I went from passionately and energetically helping to clear rat infested rubbish piles and human excrement, with an amazing team of equally driven volunteers, to just lying in bed for two days, staring at the ceiling.

From trying to suppress screams as we uncovered half a dozen rats immediately next to a small tent where four very young children were sleeping, and watching a little girl, perhaps 2 years old, drop her well-loved doll into the water that floods the camp, the same water which has flooded the spaces used as “public conveniences”.

To lying overwhelmed in my warm, dry, bed staring at the ceiling, feeling guilty about lying in my warm, dry, bed staring at my ceiling. But there’s something else, not despair, that’s too proactive a word, but powerlessness. I felt utterly unable to grasp what could be done to make a difference.

My visit to Dunkirk wasn’t the first time I’ve seen scenes of utter horror, I was part of one of the first film crews allowed back into hospitals in Liberia during a short break in the Ebola epidemic last year. There I witnessed a young mother needlessly die for want of a drug which costs only pounds to buy which just isn’t readily available in Liberia. As part of my work I’ve seen neighbourhoods in Namibia where HIV prevalence has reached 1 in 5 people, slums in India where disabled children hold young babies while they beg for small change and food. Each trip makes it mark, leaves a scar, but this one? This one affected me deeply.

I’ve sat with this desolation over the last few weeks and come to a dark realisation as to why the horror of what I saw has disturbed me so greatly. I realised that it’s the public, political and corporate response to the situation. Apart from the few charities and amazing grass-roots activists on the ground in the camps, no one seems to care. In each other country I’ve visited, whilst the response there has undoubtedly been too slow, not sufficient, there has been a general consensus that the situation is wrong, unacceptable. Aid agencies, businesses and political systems have mobilised and, in countries where so many have so little, people have joined together and given what they can.

But the refugee crisis in Calais and Dunkirk, the rest of Europe and further afield? You only have to read the comments below articles posted online or the articles themselves to see the horrific vitriol aimed towards these people. People, not cockroaches. People, not ISIS. Where are the businesses who would rally to give their infrastructure support in any other emergency situation? Where is the public outcry that people are being forced to live in absolute hell, having fled wars and persecution. People are living in indescribable conditions just 30 miles from the UK, a country where we have so much, but are willing to give so little. I’ve swung from anger to despondency in the last couple of weeks, mourning the lack of humanity that the European community, its politicians and businesses have shown.

Then last night (Friday 5 February) something changed. Last night I witnessed 5,000 people moved and motivated by Massive Attack’s powerful visual response to the refugee crisis. A huge visual backdrop created by Del Naja and London’s United Visual Artists group, featuring photographs from Syria and Lesvos by photographer Giles Duley, interspersed with the real facts behind one of the most devastating humanitarian crisis of our generation.

I watched one of the best gigs of my life with tears pouring down my face. Not just because the LED displays showed such tragic images, but also with relief. Here is a band who were using their stage to send a powerful apolitical message, and the audience? The audience seemed as gripped, inspired and motivated as I felt too.

The final screens featured a rousing call to action, met with huge cheers from the audience, reminding us that if we all come together we can make a difference, no one has to go hungry or live in such appalling conditions.

We can do something. I’m in. Are you?

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January news from Dulwich2Dunkirk

In January we provided the following support for the residents of Grande-Synthe camp

We did an aid drop of food, gas, sleeping bags and blankets and took part in the first #DunkirkCleanUp.

With your support, we provided over 3000 bananas, 800 cans of gas and 100 food parcels and other vital supplies. The Sunday clean up followed on from the excellent work our friend Rachel has been doing in Calais camp.

As part of our aid drop, we also supported Kitchen In Calais with donations of rice, spices, lentils and lots of fresh veggies including 100 cucumbers.

Led by our friends at Calais Action, we pledged our support to a campaign to highlight the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Dunkirk.

One of our co-founders, Nisha, wrote a piece about the situation in Dunkirk for popular current affairs website Little Atoms.

Fellow Dulwich Hamlet supporters, And Other Nihilists held a fundraising gig at the Montague Arms, Peckham. The event raised over £280 in support of our work.

We were really pleased to be recognised by Brixton Buzz in their end of year awards. We were mentioned along side other brilliant local campaigns such as Reclaim Brixton and the Save Cressingham Gardens.

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