As the refugee crisis across Europe deepens individuals, communities and organisations across Bristol have come together to provide support, gather donations, fund raise and organise relief drives to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais.
While Bristol is already a City of Sanctuary hundreds of people across the city have been offering help – from midwives and health visitors wanting to help in camp clinics to local running groups offering to donate trainers to refugees.
Meanwhile, a march to show solidarity with the refugees has also been planned in Bristol city centre on September 12. Organised by a coalition of activist groups, the national day of action has been called to support “refugees fleeing war, persecution, torture and poverty losing their lives or struggling to find a safe haven”.
The Bristol response to the crisis has been driven by a huge social media campaign, coordinated in large by the Calais Refugee Solidarity Group which has organised donations and information for people wanting to help.
An online fundraising campaign set up by the group has raised nearly £4,000 in just a few days to fund aid conveys and donations for refugees.
Oliver Mochizuki from Fundsurfer says the support of Bristol people has been amazing: “There is a real sense of coming together to help people.”
“The founders came to us less than a week ago, we helped create the first draft of the page and got them live within 24 hours. It then just went crazy…donations coming in every 10 minutes or so.”
The Refugee Solidarity Group has also organised drop-off points for donations across the city. The Bristol Wood Recycling Project has received hundreds of donations over the past week.
These donations will be leaving for Calais later today (Friday, September 4). The full list of drop-off points in Bristol is at the end of the article
Justin, who works at the project said: “Lots of people have shown lots of support and we are getting 50-60 donations a day at least – that’s a conservative estimate.”
“Hopefully the collection will go on for as long as the crisis does.”
— Bristol Wood Recyc.. (@BristolWRP) September 3, 2015
The solidarity group has also been helping to organise aid drives to the Calais camps. A convoy carrying donations is due to leave Bristol at the beginning of October.
Imogen Mcintosh from Ashley Down is one of those volunteering to drive her van to Calais. “I desperately wanted to do something to help,” she said. “I asked for donations and people have been really pleased to do something.”
“We also need people to come and help at the camp. We are coordinating with the charities on the ground and once we arrive we need help distributing the donations.”
The Bristol Bike Project already works with refugees in the city providing them with bikes and training Photo: Bristol Bike Project
Bikes may not seem the most obvious donation for refugees but Imogen, from the Bristol Bike Project, has just returned from delivering bikes, tools and spares to the Jungle camp in Calais.
“The camp has been moved seven kilometres out of town. That’s seven kilometres away from support from the aid agencies, the hospital and I saw that there was something that I could do to help.
“I have a van which I could fill with bedding but other people are doing that – not many people have access to a bike project where we can do up bikes and take them bikes.
“It makes a huge difference to their lives. The aid agencies operate from the town – they come to the Jungle for distributions but if they are doing paperwork with people they have to go into town that’s seven kilometres there and back for everything – if you have ever ridden a bike you know how much easier that is. It will just make life easier – they are exhausting themselves with all the walking and they are in in a situation where they can rest and recover well.”
She says they need donations of bikes and time to fix up the bikes as well as help with trips to Calais to deliver the bikes: “None of us know exactly what we are doing we just know we need to do something.”
Earlier this year the food campaign group Bristol Skipchen took a mobile food kitchen and two tonnes of food donations to the Jungle. The volunteers provided hot meals to up to 600 people a day for food which would have otherwise gone to waste.
The not-for-profit group are planning another trip to Calais later this month. Co-director of Skipchen Sam Joseph says they will be “making the voyage back to Calais to install a bicycle powered phone charging station.”
Photo credit: Julia Shirley-Quirk/Skipchen
On Friday David Cameron announced that the UK will take thousands more refugees from Syria and Bristol charities who support refugees are already gearing up to help.
Bridges for Communities based in St Philips, is a charity which helps different communities meet and interact as a way to breakdown stereotypes and build up trust.
Co-director Dan Green said that while he was “pleased to hear that the government is willing to receive more refugees from the terrible situation in Syria…we wait to find out what that really means and when it may happen”.
“There is plenty of good will among Bristol’s citizens for our city to receive some of the most needy refugees from the U.N camps, and members of the public have expressed a willingness to help in any way they can.
“Along with Citizens UK, we have been talking with the City Council about ways that we can provide the necessary healthcare, education and, most importantly, housing for those arriving – our intention is to do so through privately rented properties so as to avoid adding to the pressure on already strained social housing provision.”
Drop-off Donation Points:
The Henbury Centre, Machin Road, Henbury, BS10 7HG.
Emmaus Bristol, Upper York Street, St Pauls, Bristol BS2 8WF. Open 11-4 Mon-Sat.
Bristol Wood Recycling Project, 13 Cattle Market Road, St Phillips, Bristol BS1 6QW. Open 11-4 Mon-Sat.
St Dunstan’s Church, Bristol Road, Keynsham, BS31 2BQ. Open Mon-Sat.
Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Rd, Southville, BS3 1TF. Open seven days a week.
Other refugee groups in Bristol include: