SHOCKING television images of the migrant crisis in Calais has spurred one Clare woman into dramatic action.
A conversation at the end of last week between Inagh’s Róisín Ní Gháirbhith and a friend of hers in Cork about the situation at the French port has now turned into a national humanitarian aid convoy involving two trucks, 10 vans, two camper vans, six cars and 40 volunteers.
Desperate migrants from North Africa and the Middle East have been travelling to Calais in an effort to enter the UK. Some have attempted to walk the 31-mile Channel Tunnel, while others try to stow away on trucks using the Eurotunnel or on ships travelling from the port. Others try to climb aboard the Eurostar train.
Now Calais is home to large, poorly-equipped camps and an estimated 3,000 migrants, mainly men and boys, many of whom paid large sums to people smugglers to get there.
“I was watching all this on television and reading about it and seeing pictures and I just said to myself ‘am I just going to let this pass?’ like you do with so many things you see and hear about but I thought ‘Calais is only in France, it is so close to home’,” Róisín told The Clare Champion.
“I talked about it with my friend, Tracey Ryan in Cork and we decided that myself, herself and her husband would see if we could gather a few bits and go out in a van and see how we could help,” she recalled.
“We decided we would have to stay and help because we talked to the people on the ground and they said not to just bring the donations and drop them off but to stay and help. So we decided to go and I mentioned it on Facebook that this was something we were going to do and, since then, I have had about 100 calls, texts and messages offering support,” she added.
The response in just five days, according to Róisín, has been “overwhelming”.
“Within a day, there was a fundraising yogathon set up in Lahinch for September 20. In two days, I had a fundraising gig in Kenny’s in Lahinch happening this Sunday. Tracey set up a Go Fund Me page called Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity and we had an initial target of maybe €5,000. We soon had more than that so we raised the target to €10,000 and by Wednesday evening, we were over €7,000.
“With all the donations of goods people were pledging to me, I realised I would have so much stuff I couldn’t just bring it down to Cork, I would need a man with a van. Seamus Fitzgerald, who has Automated Gate Systems in Ennis, contacted me and said we could use his van; he would take a few days off and come over with us,” she outlined.
Within days, there were drop-off points for donations and goods set up around Clare and across the country, other counties were setting up their own collections.
“People were contacting me from other counties, like Kilkenny, Galway, Dublin, Carlow and so on, and they were all saying they wanted to help and at the same time my friend, Tracey, was getting calls from other counties, so it has just grown into a nationwide thing,” Róisín said.
Róisín set up a Clare to Calais Facebook page to co-ordinate donations. The convoy is accepting a variety of items, including tents, sleeping bags, blankets, heavy-duty rubbish bags, roll mats, tarpaulin, bicycle repair kits, men’s clothes including runners, walking shoes, jackets, gloves and socks, as well as toiletries, medical supplies, first aid kits, torches and money.
The North Clare woman explained that the group is not collecting women or children’s clothes because there is another charity already doing that in the area. All equipment must be in good condition and not missing any parts.
“As well as all the donations we have received to date, I also have a list of people who want to go and volunteer as well. So we now have two trucks, 10 vans, six cars, two camper vans and over 40 people offering to go from around the country and about 10 of those people are from Clare. I have been turning some things down because I don’t want to take too much, until we get out there and see what is needed most.
“We have until September 29 [when the convoy leaves] and if we can’t bring everything, we will put it in storage because we think we will probably end up going for a second trip. Stena Line are helping us get the trucks and vans over. We will travel from Rosslare to Cherbourg and then from there we will drive to Calais,” she explained.
“A company in Liscannor, The Online Academy of Irish Music, said they would pay for the fuel for the van from Clare to make the journey over and back. What is amazing about this is that it is loads of ordinary people so sickened by what they have seen that they cannot sit by and do nothing.
“I am finding it challenging to handle all the help that is coming in and people really want to know what they can do to help. It is overwhelming. The sadness I felt about the refugee situation has been replaced by happiness about how great people are. This shows that if you give people an opportunity to help, they will help.
“Up to now, people didn’t know how they could help but this has given them the chance,” she revealed.
The group has contacted the authorities in Calais and non-governmental organisations working in the area, who have offered them support.
“We are not going there blind. They know we are coming. They are preparing for our arrival and because we are bringing volunteers to distribute the goods, we won’t be creating more work for them,” Róisín concluded.
Full details of the items being collected and the locations of the drop-off points are outlined on the Clare to Calais Facebook page.