I was sat in a café in Calais yesterday when I saw a young guy with a small pack on his back. He had a ruffled up worn out sleeping mat hanging from it. Kindred spirit I thought and I called out to him. “Are you English? Do you want a coffee”.
That would be good he said but I have a lot of business to do if you don’t mind me staying on the phone.
No problem I said. But when he heard I was here for similar reasons the phone stayed in his pocket and we talked ‘shop’.
The young man was on a scouting trip for an upcoming Aid convoy to help out the Refugees here. He didn’t have long to organise things. He didn’t know Calais. He didn’t know much about Refugees or the Refugee situation here.
But the very good thing was that this recently set up, warm hearted, well meaning and desperate to help gang of people had sent someone out before them to gather information and make the convoy as successful as possible. Bravo-God willing you will do a lot of good and I will watch your progress with interest.
Convoys are great. So many people want to help, but to help efficiently the Refugees here need the right things.
From where I am sat, and I’ve been here quite a few times, they need toilets/showers/medicines/health care/food/shelter/water/warmth….
The French group Salem have been looking after Refugees here for years, even before the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 2000’s. So the charities here know what they need. Contact them before you come, but also realise that many people are contacting them. It may be better for ‘newby’ convoy hopefuls to contact experienced people back in the UK. I met the group Human Appeal today. (Google them if you wish too). They were also here doing a scouting session.
Well meaning help for the Refugees is fantastic. It is to be commended and is very gratefully received. But before you rush into giving and organising take the time to be as efficient as possible. Once you’ve found out what is genuinely needed, then work out if there are already ‘efficient’ people who can take it for you. Organising a convoy, usually with many people you don’t know, can, (and of course it doesn’t always have to be), but can be a logistical nightmare…and people can even sometimes get hurt…and I assume that is not in anyone’s plan.
Myself and the young chap talked for quite a while and I said I could tell him about a convoy experience I had back in the early 90’s when the horrific war took place in the former Yugoslavia. Such were the horrors of the war that I only recounted this event to a few family members and a couple of close friends. It really was a question of Carry on Convoy and the horrors of the war (or any war) did not warrant any kind of humour. But the young lad said you should tell the story. So I shall recount a little of it.
An advert in the Daily Telegraph newspaper asked for drivers/vehicles and aid for a convoy trip to help out the Refugees who were scattered about the former Yugoslavia. I had always wanted to be involved as a driver in such a project…so I volunteered, as a driver. Such was the mismanagement of this convoy that I never sat in a driving seat the whole way down to Zagreb, Croatia.
I took it to heart that the two organisers of the event, (who both promised to front £5000 towards travel and fuel expenses) had their best intentions in mind. They didn’t. They also didn’t front the £10,000!
It was mayhem. From start to finish. Two articulated lorries, 3 seven and a half ton wagons, 17 cars and maybe 35 people, (I forget the exact number) made their way from Surrey, via Dover to Zagreb and back.
Yes we managed to find someone to take our articulated lorries of baked beans and baby food. Yes we managed to find someone to take the clothes, the medicines, the toys. But what a nightmare it was. The two ‘organisers’ had to back off and a few of us took control when we realised things were going profoundly wrong.
We lost people. One person lost their passport. One person had an epileptic fit, (these things happen). We dealt with it. A middle aged lady joined the convoy in Dover. No one knew who she was…until I contacted the British Embassy in Germany. The lady had walked out of a psychiatric ward to join us. The British Embassy couldn’t help us because she didn’t have an E111 card. We had to take her all the way to Zagreb where, when we turned around to return to the UK we had to leave her in the hands of the British Embassy. The British Embassy in Zagreb was operating out of one solitary room, not far from the war zone…and they then had to sort this lady out, for us.
Hotel bills were run up that couldn’t be paid. Two of our group joined in the fighting as mercenaries, one I later saw on the BBC news as he had been injured by a land mine. (He was ok thankfully). We lost one guy and didn’t find out where he was for six weeks. He had driven into the heart of the fighting with his borrowed land rover. His wife was frantic, as you can imagine.
We did manage to get back to the UK. No one got hurt, (except the mercenary but he was ok). Aid did get delivered, but what an effort, what a near disaster. (The doctors/nurses and several people on the trip did some great work).
Convoys can be fantastic. My advice, plan for efficiency and safety from day one. Scrutinize the leaders, scrutinize the plan, scrutinize your reasons for going…and then have a very good, meaningful Convoy. All the best with it.