People in Waltham Forest are rallying together to help refugees.
Events to both fundraise and gather materials have been held around the borough to support those in desperate need of food and shelter, as the refugee crisis in Europe continues.
There have also been dozens of trips made by local people to the so-called ‘Calais Jungle’ where thousands of refugees fleeing violence and conflict have made a temporary home.
Anna Skodbo from Walthamstow is one of those who volunteered to help in Calais, staying for four days with a charity.
“When we arrived at the camp the scale of the crisis really hit me and it was nearly impossible to fight back tears,” she said.
“It was like walking into a documentary. During the drive through the camp we had people running towards us thinking we were bringing food and clothing.
“We kept having to explain we weren’t ‘line’, which is the word they use for receiving aid. I think it comes from the fact they have to queue. When we arrived there were loads of people waiting.
“Twenty of them had been selected for a house based on the extremity of their situation. There were almost twice as many there asking why they couldn’t have a house too.
“It was really hard to not get emotional. When you have something to offer but only for a fraction of the people, they just huddle around you asking and asking.”
In November a fundraising event, ‘Borderlands’, was held by Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group (WMAG). Four films depicting different sides of the refugee crisis were shown, including one directed by Dave Young, who attended the event and spoke afterwards.
Although his films have been shown by the BBC, Dave said local events such as those put on in Waltham Forest were very important as well.
He told the Echo: “I don’t think there are enough events like this. It is nice to come down and meet people who want to help. The reason I made the film was to change opinions, because the media often does not report the real story.
“You can call these people what you like, but they are all just people. They deserve a quality of life, as we all do.
“In Calais I did not meet any economic migrants, they’ve all been fleeing war. They would rather go home than be where they are, but their homes have been destroyed.”
Sarah Walker, who organised Borderlands, said: “Recent horrific events of terror have led, with depressingly predictable inevitability, to the blaming of refugees for security threats and calls to tighten Europe’s borders.
“In times of heightened fear and loathing, there is a need to move away from the politics of fear to the politics of reason. Syrian refugees are fleeing the very same extremists that were behind the tragic events in Paris.”
In July, WMAG set up a support centre for migrants at St Saviour’s Church, a weekly drop-in space offering free legal advice. Sarah added: “Sadly, spaces like Walthamstow Migrant Support Centre are needed more than ever as cuts to legal aid and statutory services mean it’s increasingly difficult for migrants to access professional advice, leaving many in precarious situations and facing destitution.
“The centre desperately needs funding to expand its services.”
The event ‘Convoy to Calais’ held in September at the Hornbeam Centre, organised by local student Mayisha Begum, saw hundreds of bags of supplies donated for refugees in Calais.
Allocations are now being made by the UK government for the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In Chingford a reverend offered up his home as part of a coordinated effort among churches in East London to house up to 50 families, as the first of 20,000 Syrian refugees begin to arrive across the country.
A Waltham Forest Council spokesman said the authority was willing to house refugees but was still waiting to find out from government agencies whether any allocation would be made to the borough.
For more information:
Walthamstow Migrant Support Centre is open every Tuesday from 10am-1pm at Saint Saviour’s Church, 210 Markhouse Road, E17 8EP.
Dave Young’s film about the refugee crisis, Jungle Life, can be viewed online.
You can take part in the national #RefugeesWelcome campaign being promoted by Waltham Forest Stand Up To Racism.
If you are interested in hosting a Syrian family get in touch with Citizens UK.