Opinion: Jane Hetherington – Travelling to a refugee camp in Calais

In Calais

Jane Hetherington is a town councillor and a mental health specialist who lives in Ramsgate.

The first post Brexit day and we left with a level of trepidation and uncertainty for Dover and a ferry to Calais. This was in order to supply the refugees in Calais with much needed sleeping bags, clothes, tents etc. My colleagues Paula, Cameron and Niamh had done the journey on numerous occasions and were all old hands.

For me this was the first time and I was curious as to what we would encounter. I was also wondering about the crossing and how we would experience the borders, on this the first day after our departure from the European Union. I am aware that the real changes will not occur for a further year, but I was curious as to what, if anything, would be different.

In actual fact nothing had changed except there were far fewer cars and passengers on the crossing than is normal on a Saturday.

What was impressive were the young British,, German, French and Americans we met. They were working to support the refugees by providing services such as clothes, washing facilities, toiletries and tents which are sorted, graded and recycled in a large temporary warehouse facility in the industrial hinterland of Calais.

The work is hard and the facilities are cold and basic yet these young people, accompanied by a regular supply of volunteers from the UK, labour tirelessly.

The young refugees we met were all young men although there are women and children too supplied by a different facility. They are camped by the side of the road and are regularly and brutally moved on by the French police, losing what few possessions they have. Which is why they need to be provided with warm clothes, sleeping bags etc. on a regular basis.

The men were all in their late teens and 20s and predominantly from Somalia. They spoke French and in many cases good English and some of them have been there for over two years trying to get into the UK. It saddened me to think of the long-term future for these resourceful youths and how their lives would evolve.

It also saddened me that I take so much for granted in relation to my own life and how fortunate I am. They were extremely grateful for everything we took them and we intend to return on February 19 with further supplies.


  1. I really commend you for taking these things over to them, but, that is where it’ll end, as you have stated, all these people are young, whether they are Somalian, Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, Nigerian, they should be back in there own Country, helping to build there own economies, they are not a British problem, if they landed in a member euro state it is there problem, not ours.

      • So Elaine, when the next boat full, arrive on our shores, we have it on your authority, that you will look after these economic migrants, not the British Tax payer, Just as I write this, another 8 boat loads arrive today, at Dover.

  2. They are all in a safe country they are legally required to apply for asylem to the first safe country they enter.

    Our border force should be turning them back to france, not accting as a taxi service to benifits.

    Uk should only offer protection to genuine political asylum, not the economic migrants in Calais camps.

  3. Elaine, that is a very unfair comment to Tripod. What he says is basically correct. The French have allowed the camps to exist for a long time in the hope that the migrants cross over to the UK.

  4. If they had nothing to hide they would be registering themselves with authorities and seeking a move to the UK through legal channels. The vast majority of these people trying to illegally sneak into this Country are economic migrants.
    Legally they should be registering in the first safe country they arrive in or are we now saying the rest of Europe is no longer safe ? .
    We already have a reported 320 thousand people without homes and living in poverty that we can’t look after so how are we expecting to cope with thousands more ?

  5. Well done Jane. So heartening to see one of local politicians caring about the lost souls of these globally troubled times.

    • More virtue signalling, Christine?
      Your comments are trying to make others seem inconsiderate.
      As previously stated, many are not asylum seekers but economic migrants and Kent is becoming overwhelmed by the constant traffic of boats coming across the channel.

  6. I mentioned in this piece that these young men originate from Somalia. Somalia is an extremely dangerous country and one which we from the west are discouraged to visit. This is due to the activities of al-Qaida affiliated terrorist groups with numerous suicide bombings, kidnappings and generalised violent chaos!

  7. Some of the previous somalian refugees have been homed in Folkestone and are now drug dealing from car parks near the centre of town. My son was chased by a gang of them waving knives and machetes when he and a friend were just talking in the park by themselves. The Government needs to get tough on these criminals being brought over to Kent now by the very authorities that are supposed to keep them from entering the UK illegally. Once in very few are being deported back to where they come from. It is perfectly ok for a nation to live peacefully in Somalia . It is the criminals wanting to get to the UK in whatever way they can get away with.

    • I have found this quite confusing. What or who are the authorities bringing Somalian criminals into Kent?

  8. It’s our bombs, at £200,000 each, plus pilot’s salary, plane etc.,for anyone concerned for the sacred “British axpayer”, that chase these people out of their countries. When will we ever learn?

  9. The government should be levelling the benefits playing field so that it wasn’t so attractive to try so hard to get to the UK. They’re not fleeing Somalia/ Iraq or whichever war torn country they left behind, they’re fleeing France!!! and prepared to risk death…now we all know the French can be annoying at times…..

  10. Again the question has to be asked. How did all these Somalian refugees get from Somalia to France and why are they headed for England ?

    Unless they came by plane, they would have has to cross at least ten other countries to get across North Africa (or via the Middle East) and then traverse Europe before arriving in France.

    As stated by others, if they are genuine refugees, they seek sanctuary in the first safe country. Is nowhere else in Europe (including France) a safe country ? Why have ten other countries “assisted their travel” rather than provided them with a safe place to live ?

    France is also complicit in this farce as it knows that slowly but surely the supposed refugees will filter their way onto boats and lorries and head for England provide the French authorities keep their eyes closed for long enough. The problem is that such an attitude merely encourages other migrants to continue to follow the same process . . .

  11. Well I, for one, applaud the kindness shown by those helping refugees. All the “why don’t they just…” comments are spectacularly ignorant. You have no idea why people would make such a crazy and dangerous journey, what’s happened in their lives to necessitate it. So easy to be judgmental from your nicely centrally heated home.
    And all the “why not help the homeless here first” commenters – what exactly are you doing to help? Hmmm?
    There are a lot of people needing help in this world. I hope when you need some help it will be available to you, wherever you are in the world.

  12. Economic migrants are people seeking asylum from absolute poverty caused by war, corruption and natural disaster. They too need asylum. Somalia wilnever match Britain for economic migrants. No country in the world has exported its poor more than Britain. In 1957 my family were given £50 and free passage to Canada. The housing shortage in war damaged Leeds meant we had to go somewhere. Hundreds of thousands of us, excess people, economic British immigrants went overseas then, but they were only another wave of hundreds of such waves leaving from Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow or Southampton over centuries. It makes me breathless when I read comments like Tripod’s. You are, I’m afraid in a state of utter ignorance and remind me of my (Canadian by then) father’s comment that in England most people have no more sense of themselves than a turnip in a field.

    • Just shows how ignorant you are, Jane Lee-Hopkinson, when the War ended in 1945, the country was on its knees nearly Bankrupt, did the young Men & Women, go to other countries around the World, and become a Parasite, no our Men and Women, stayed, worked hard, then put the Great back into Britain, your so called friends, from Somalia, turn up on our shores, end up selling drugs, to our children, going to our Hospitals, demanding to be seen before anybody else, not paid a penny in Taxes. So, Ms Lee-Hopkinson, answer me this, when they end up in Europe, why don’t they claim Asylum in any of countries that they pass through, Hungry or Romania, don’t want them, no they come here, for one reason, because our Government gives them everything.
      I always thought this was a place for sensible Adult debate, not infantile name calling as you have quoted, makes me wonder, what your Father thought of the French, Dutch, Belgians etc.

    • The big difference being that post war migration from Britain was official, managed, legitimate migration by consent of governments, immigration authorities, etc. It was not done by covert means, under the cover of darkness, without passports and visas, etc. without jobs and accommodation being arranged in advance by persons trying to bypass the official channels.

      Canada and Australia are large countries with plenty of open spaces for building houses and factories. Now, you can only get into Canada or Australia through official channels if you can prove you have something to offer the country.

      England on the other hand is full up. We are now having to build on Greenfield sites – which residents are campaigning against. Would it be a better idea to build on the South- and North Downs, the New Forest, The Yorkshire Dales and everywhere else so we can accommodate more refugees ? ? ?

      • Iesu Mawr!These refugees are coming from countries which have been turned into versions of hell! I am sure that their situation is hard if not impossible for most of us in Britain to imagine- but do some people commenting here really think that thousands are risking their lives to get to Britain because of benefits?

  13. I spent over thirty years of tm life life working with refugees and asylum seekers from a wide variety of countries, including Somalia, Iran, Iraq, the Congo, and I never met anyone who had come here thinking of the benefits they would get.They had witnessed and been a part of – including one woman having a husband and five children murdered in front of her; living crippled by bullets still in her feet; making the most horrendous journeys (travelling for three weeks at night only, as it was too dangerous during the day) – are beyond imagination. And these are just a few examples They come here in utter despair and desperation, not to claim benefits.

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