Helping instead of celebrating

Helping instead of celebrating

Refugee in the "jungle" of Calais © Etienne Laurent

They came to Calais with high hopes of finding a better life. "Calais exemplifies Europe’s refugee policy," says Chrissi Stuhlen, a Cologne resident. You and your friends will be there over New Year’s Eve to help.

Interviewer: For years, Calais has been both a port of call and a premature final destination for many refugees. You are currently in Calais to help these people. How does the situation look like?

Chrissi Stuhlen (a Cologne resident who helps in Calais on a private initiative): The Dunkirk-Calais region is home to about 1.200 refugees. You can’t say exactly because the numbers vary. The situation here is very bad: there is very little provision from the state side. People have little to eat and actually sleep on the street under the open sky. With the temperatures, it’s just barely tolerable.
Interviewer: You made the decision with some friends: We will go to Calais over Christmas and New Year’s Eve to help. How can you get involved on the ground?

Chairs: There is a large industrial hall of "Help Refugees", an English organization that is the umbrella organization for a total of eight sub-organizations. They take care of food and give 11.200 meals a day out. Arriving donations in kind have to be sorted and washed and then go back out to the refugees again. And we are now standing in the kitchen and cut, rinse, cook. We do everything that comes up.

Interviewer: How do you get the idea to go to Calais and be a kitchen worker instead of sitting comfortably at home on the sofa?

Stuhlen: We are all relatively political, and for us Calais is the fulcrum of a political situation that we share in Germany. We share the responsibility that there are so many people fleeing and living here in inhumane conditions. For us, Calais is an example of Europe’s refugee policy. We would like to do our part to ensure that people have what they need.

Interviewer: How much courage did it take for you to get in your car and actually drive to Calais?

chairs: From my side, it has little to do with courage, because we are not actually exposing ourselves to any great risk. It can really be done by anyone who wants to. Of course it’s an adventure somewhere because you don’t know the people. Personally, I think it’s more courageous for the people we are taking care of here.

Interviewer: Do you have the feeling that you can be an encouragement or rather the feeling that the people there are perhaps also discouraged by this isolation??

Chairs: I wouldn’t say encourage. What we do here is absolute emergency aid. We make sure people have something to eat and maybe a sleeping bag or tent for the night. In this respect, I believe that when you are only there for such a short time, it is difficult to give encouragement – especially since we find ourselves in the privileged situation of going back to Germany again. In this respect, I don’t know whether one can speak of courage.

There are some where I would say there is still courage there. Especially if they haven’t been here that long, of course they have hope and courage to come to England. But there are also people who have been here for years. They come over naturally sometime already a certain hopelessness.

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