Thinking of Going to Calais?

Thinking of going to Calais? I’ve just got back and would like to share some thoughts with you.

It appears that a large wave of European citizens are in the process of taking ‘aid’ to Calais and other areas in Europe where migrants and refugees are camped or travelling.

People in the UK and across Europe who are distressed to see pictures of drowned children want to help. I am glad to see this response, but would like to add a few points to the debate, as I think that we are in danger of perpetuating the problem by framing the situation through the political lens of those who created it.

Why is it happening?

Firstly, we must remember that people are fleeing countries which our government has helped to destabilise and make uninhabitable. Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, and the policies of other rich governments, have forced this population movement via climate disaster, global financial abuse and racist wars.

Afghan area in Calais Jungle refugee camp
Afghan area in Calais Jungle refugee camp

To address this, we need to take action at home by building a broad, grassroots movement powerful enough to challenge the neoliberal regime and foster self-organisation as a fundamental principle of our communities.

Refugees? Migrants?

Regarding the debate about whether we should call people forced to flee ‘migrants’ or’ refugees’, and whether we are creating with that conversation a ‘good refugee/bad migrant’ binary which undermines the basic truth that all people should be free and have rights: Instead, let’s focus our language on the elites who force others to leave their homelands and families. Words such as white supremacist, capitalist, neoliberal and patriarchal are all on point.


Well-meaning Brits are going to Calais and running into the limitations of the charity model. Confused, upset donators are arriving in vans and attempting to give items they have collected to exhausted refugees and migrants, and sometimes chaos ensues during distribution. The true source of this chaos is the global power balance as described above, and much more the responsibility of any ‘white saviours’ come to offer benevolence than black and brown people in flight.

Truth is, anyone visiting is the guest of the people at the camp and has much more to learn that to give. Taking shoes, blankets, sleeping bags etc on solidarity missions is helpful but limited. What is important is that we also challenge the racism and imperialism that is fuelling this ongoing tragedy.

What should I do when I get there?

On the heated question of whether it is best to donate to charities working on the ground, drive your own supplies over or simply step back, I would like to offer this:

If you are going to Calais, take stuff, that’s fine, and contact local distribution centres in advance of your trip as they have more experience than you in distributing it on the ground and require notice. Then go to the camp if you want to, and offer your good wishes to those who have arrived there – these human conversations and sharing basic humanity and love with those who wish to connect are vital to building new friendships and can be vehicles of revolutionary change. But most importantly think deeply about how you can join the people in Calais or elsewhere in directly challenging the border.  Nobody wants to be stuck – people want to travel to their destination.

Graffiti from the Calais Jungle Refugee camp
Graffiti from the Calais Jungle Refugee camp

How the people defying borders are showing Europeans what we must do:

The people who are moving into and across Europe from North Africa and the Middle East have no choice but to take a mass direct action to tear down the borders of Fortress Europe – to survive they have to get in. Their freedom is bound up with ours – we in Europe are subject to the same threats as they are, but as yet insulated by privileges not enjoyed by people from countries our countries have robbed and bombed. We must support their action for our own future survival, as much as for theirs. The successes of peoples’ movements to take power away from the global elite are the very same acts that will ensure the survival of the planet, of the human race. We either take this planet back from those who would corral and destroy it, or we lose it.

Any idea that we are ‘helping the migrants’ because they are deserving of our ‘charity’ or ‘pity’ is misguided: we must support their mass direct action of defying borders as they lead the global fight for survival – ours, theirs and that of the planet.

(Thanks to Mitch, Samir, Mark and Andy for support/input on this article.)


26 thoughts on “Thinking of Going to Calais?

  1. This has been such a helpful article for me I will share and exhort my friends on Facebook to read and think deeply about these thoughts.Keep the conversation going may it grow into a movement strong enough to overthrow the “governmental systems” and replace them with “compassionitism”

  2. Thanks, Alison, for sharing your reflections and giving the bigger picture to this. I agree with your that it’s very encouraging to see that people genuinely care – and at the same time it’s important to stay in touch with why we care, who we care for and whether we care enough to make a longterm difference. I’ve shared your post on Twitter and Facebook.

  3. ‘Any idea that we are ‘helping the migrants’ because they are deserving of our ‘charity’ or ‘pity’ is misguided:’ resonates loudly with me and it something I have tried to show in my own blog. Thanks for writing this article Alison

  4. You’ve nailed it Alison! Human Beings are naturally so giving, caring and compassionate, unfortunately also capable of such horror, violence and cruelty, perpetuated by the ruling elite who only care about their traditional hierarchy, obscene wealth and unlawful Landownership. Capitalism doesn’t work, it’s literally killing people and the Earth, which is self-evident! This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, through alternative methods as governments are incompetent, self serving and powerless through a broken democratic system; which lobbyists easily manipulate. The Internet – uncensored – and it’s obvious potential has the power for real change and can rally the masses in a way the currently corrupt systems are powerless to deny or defend! We have all witnessed the fear that pioneers such as Aaron Swartz and Julian Asange and many other visionaries have had on the establishment through the technology of the people!!! Strength, commitment and courage is needed to continue this fight against oppression.

  5. Fantastic article! You’ve articulated the thoughts, feeling and emotions that have been whirling around in my mind succinctly and articulately.

  6. Couldn’t agree more..great article…let’s use this compassion and energy that is welling up to begin to put right the systems that are bringing this suffering about in the first place.

  7. I was involved in a similar project with Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovan refugees in Germany. We were inundated with stuff that it was impossible to distribute. The temporary accommodation stood for three years and during that time we had probably a container full of single shoes (!) and cuddly toys. It brought home to me how wasteful society is. Help alleviates and gives people a feeling of being accepted – but how long does that/will that persist? I recall a Bosnian woman weeping and telling me “we didn’t come here to be beggars, we thought we could work”. Bosnia is a fractured society – flight from war became a permanent diaspora. In that conflict too, all the western powers played geopolitical games with Russia. In both these conflicts the west has played an insidious role and its humanitarian response has come about, not out of real concern, but as a result of pressure within Europe and to contain a problem on Europe’s doorstep. It is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. When Cameron and May insinuate this is not Britain’s problem they are lying: this disaster is of their making, their class interests – aided and abetted by Blair and all those other pro-business cronies- There is no difference between driving a disabled person to suicide over ATOS and bedroom tax and letting them perish in wars or when fleeing from conflict. Tony Benn said it – seeing how they treat refugees, makes you realise how they would treat us, if we let them. We have to fight it politically – because it is all about capitalism and not at all about faith, democracy or culture.

    1. Thanks. I agree it’s really important to politicise the response so as to prevent the same thing continually reoccurring. This piece has 30K hits so far and I will make a podcast to put out by the end of the week. Let’s all keep talking about how our governments are complicit and it is not our charity but withdrawal of our warmongering, climate abuse and financial abuse that will solve the problem.

  8. Ahhhh how refreshing! We all want to “help” and thank the universe that this remains one of our unique traits…caring for others. But yes the role is so much bigger, time to challenge, time to come together, time to wake up! I am a social worker for a local authority and every day I have to challenge and fight on behalf of the people I work for (my “clients”), against the system I work for. Sometimes it feels hopeless but I will never stop shouting, but as a profession its the same, most people become tired of the battle against the corrupt, unjust system, and stop shouting…we need to come together to change the system nationally and globally! I am going to Calais for a week because at the end of the month…but I’m not going to open my car boot and cause more chaos. I am having serious thoughts since watching the video of Adam Kelwick, who notes that the sensible ways of working..communicate with the people living this experience, letting them decide who to distribute and stop thinking we know best, stop doing to people. respect, empowerment, independence, all words as a social worker, you get shoved down your neck and in my job, very difficult to actually do in practice, with no resources….Calais now have LOTS of resources, so lets us who are going to go THINK hard about this. Help there IS still needed but Alison is SO spot on with what she said, we need to to more than that…as humans we all have unique personalities and some do lead and act independently, others need guiding and as a species we are also lazy in that respect, “oh what can I do..someone else will do it”, erm yes…the powerful, corrupt, evil elite! I love humans (mostly), we are trying!! Some guidance of what to do to actually make change, for some is necessary to kick start things sometimes. Peace and love to all my fellow humans!

    1. Yes that’s a very good article. I’m going to make a podcast in the next few days to follow up and expand on this blog. I’ll quote John or if anyone from War on Want would be willing, we could interview them. I’ll email you about it.

  9. Reblogged this on isolde treibholz and commented:
    In all media we hear, read and see people leaving their homes, in the hope to gain safety and a better life. It is encouraging that there are so many people in the European Union willing to help, despite the slow reactions of their governments, against the hate of those who attack refugee camps, the people in it and the people trying to share some humanity. The `jungle´ as it is called is one of the biggest defeats of humanity within the EU in the last years. Here are some thoughts for those who want to help.

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