In late 2015, I was watching the BBC news during the MPs debating over the bombing of Syria. I was very much against the idea but, even with my own bias, I couldn't help but think the BBC was reporting on the issue with a strong bias in favour of the vote.
I opened photoshop, googled the BBC logo and 5 minutes later, boom - BBC Bum Ba Claat! We made a meme! Posted it, it got shared by so many people we decided to make the tee and we chose to donate the profits to the refugees who were the victims of the bombings.
It's ended up putting out one of our most popular designs and because of that, we've raised over £500 for our chosen charity, Calais Refugee Solidarity Bristol. Bea from NTS went along to see them in action at the Palestine Museum in Broad Street and spoke with Josie and Katrina, two of the wonderful volunteers and coordinators of CRSB.
J: There are over 20 nationalities in the camps in Calais and in Dunkirk. The majority in Calais are Sudanese, Afghan, Eritrean and we’re seeing an increase in the number of Syrian refugees. In Dunkirk there’s a lot of Iraqi, Kurdish and also Iranian. They do tend to group together and live in communities according to their nationality but there is a huge amount of support between the different cultures in the camp.
J: Mostly male, I’d say mostly young male adults there are an increasing number of women and children (family units) coming in as well.
J: We’re quite a small core group in Bristol but we have a big following, so there’s over six thousand in our group (Facebook).
A lot of what we do is to raise awareness; we want to make sure that people know more about what is going on in Northern France, not the scaremongering reports promoted in the Daily Mail and other media outlets. We have lots of links with charities and organisations that are helping on the ground and we try to communicate those updates to those following us in Bristol. CRSB has a variety of activism projects that we encourage people to participate in: writing to MPs, attending rallies and influence some change to improve things in the long-term.
Fundraising is an important part of our work and that income allows us to make grants to organisations on the ground and to fund the humanitarian work that we do. Last September, we held a collected donated clothes, tents, sleeping bags and food to send to Calais. Bristol responded amazingly and we filled two warehouse spaces. In November we were able to send forty tonnes of donations to Calais in two huge lorries and three minibuses carrying 30 volunteers on that trip. Since then, we have sent another 12 van loads and nearly 70 volunteers. We don’t have the capacity to collect constantly, so when there is an urgent callout from the warehouse in Calais, or from a particular group, we will try to raise funds to respond to that or we’ll do an emergency collection in Bristol and send a van.
J: It’s not as prominent in the media anymore so we do have to work harder at getting the word out and also, in terms of soliciting donations from the public. The people in our group have been amazing and when we ask for their help, they respond, but, again, there’s only so much that people can give so we do try to instigate some change that will solve the problem, rather than just sticking a plaster on it.
K: No, not in northern France. They’re concentrating on Syria because their attitude is: ‘if we help the people in France, more will come. I think they’re under a lot of pressure from the French government to not help them because the French see that as encouraging them and it is a big problem for the French government. It’s a very complex situation. Tess Berry-Hart has been posting a lot; there’s a Facebook page called Law Of The Jungle, there’s a lot of very interesting debate on there, people can probably find out a lot from that or by coming to one of our meetings.
J: The British government haven’t done very much to help refugees in France at all. A lot of our tax-payers money has been spent on creating a huge fence, topped with razor wire, and it also pays for the riot police that are tear-gassing people in the camps. That’s British tax-payers money that’s paying for that.
Recently the government have done a U-turn; there was the Dubs Amendment that came through the House of Lords recently. Lord Dubs wanted to grant entry to the UK to three thousand unaccompanied children, who are already in Europe. The government had previously said that they would take three thousand from Syria and the surrounding area only. The House of Commons, first of all, rejected the Dubs Amendment and sent it back to the House of Lords and they have had to water it down massively. They have now agreed to accept unaccompanied children but they haven’t specified how may and they won;t until they consult with local authorities, which will take some time. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
J: Not personally. While I have spent some time in the ‘jungle’ helping with distributions, the majority of my time is in the warehouse sorting clothes, building food parcels or I’m in the kitchen. Last weekend I spent three days in the kitchen peeling 50kg of onions, 75kg of potatoes - there’s a lot to do there. We fit in wherever we’re needed.
I know of others that have made wonderful friendships and they are able to continue those friendships when people do make it to the UK. Aid Box Convoy, who were literally keeping people alive in the old Dunkirk camp, are another group, based in Bristol, who are now focused on supporting refugees that arrive in Bristol with nothing and need some help to begin their new lives in the UK. It’s really great.
J: We do. We’ve got a small coordinating group that meets frequently. Anyone’s welcome to come along to those meetings or to become a coordinator if they can help on a frequent, ongoing basis. We try to have a public meeting around once a month. We also have three sub-groups: Activism & Awareness, Volunteers & Collections or Fundraising & Grants. These working groups will meet every now and again to help further the work that they’re doing.
J: It varies and part of our job on a day-to-day basis is keeping up to date with the list of items most urgently needed.
Small and medium sized men’s clothing will always be needed; the people in the camps aren’t large, many are malnourished and have various other health issues because of the circumstances they’re living in. We also regularly collect food donations to supply the wonderful Calais Kitchens, who provide hot meals and food parcels for 1000s every day. A regularly updated list of items needed can be found on Calaidipedia.
Money is always needed. Financial donations enable us to make grants to groups in Calais who are meeting the daily priority needs of the refugees in the most appropriate way.
We give a massive thanks to Josie, Katrina and all the volunteers at Calais Refugee Solidarity Bristol, along with everyone who bought the tee and helped us raise this money. Do your best to keep informed about the refugee crisis and do what you can to help. Don't forget, we'll always donate the profits from our 'BBC - Bum Ba Claat' tee to refugees so help spread the word if you can.
Grab yourself a 'BBC - Bum Ba Claat' tee from our online shop. As well as looking dope you'll be donating to a great cause, all the profits from your purchase will go to CRSB.