This article is part of a two-sectioned series that focus on the current situation of refugees in the French cities Ouistreham and Caen.
It is evening. We are three friends sitting on the curb, that surrounds a turning circle. We are watching the ducks coming out of the ship canal, that goes right next to it. They are fighting the Seagulls to get the pieces of bread and rice, that have been left on the ground.
After a while, the one of us that stayed the longest in the north of France, starts to talk about his day today in Ouistreham. Together with his Cousin and five other refugees he succeeded to get on the back of a truck without being seen. Almost all seven of them got through the control unnoticed, but then the police caught him, his cousin and one other guy eventually and made them leave the truck. The other four are now on their way to UK, he adds with a smile on his face.
This is often called and described as “the game“ against the police, for that also against the French state, by many refugees. In Ouistreham it is “played“ two to three times a day. Every time the cars, buses and trucks come to the town to get on a ferry to England, you can see many police officers heavily armed and people from the French military. In almost all the cases, the police seems to be the „winner“. Stories as the one of my friend next to me are extremely rare.
Later, we are talking about what happens or could happen if the police found you in one of the trucks. Our friend says that most of the time they are pretty relaxed and just send you away. But sometimes he has also gotten put into a bus with some others. Afterwards, they were brought to Italy and got sent out somewhere. From other refugees we heart multiple times of people who were holding on to a moving truck and the police fought them with pepper spray to make them let go.
The situation and all the problems its causing to the refugees is not new.
Another big problem in this town that counts 9.000 habitants, is that there is no official place for the 200 refugees to stay over night. Because of this, most of them have no other choice but to live in the streets. Many decide to sleep on some grass next to the main road that leads into the town, to see all the vehicles coming at any time. If people set up a tent somewhere, they will probably get forced to leave with pepper spray or are brought to prison for 45 days. All specific information you will find in this text about interaction between police officers and refugees, date back to conversations with various refugees.
The situation and all the problems its causing to the refugees is not new. That’s why a lot of people living in Ouistreham or nearby, started to organize themselves to support the large amount of new homeless people in their town. There are supporters coming everyday to the turning circle we are sitting on, to distribute breakfast and dinner to everyone who is coming there. On cold days warm clothes, shoes and blankets are distributed as well.
Four times a week, me and four friends drive to the distribution. On these days, we are sometimes responsible for the breakfast and the tea. Often, we get a lot of bread from a local baker he didn’t sell that day and also vegetables and fruits we receive from other supporters in Ouistreham. Also, we go dumpster diving one or two times a week. This means, we go to several supermarkets at night and search their dumpsters for food that is still in good condition. This is a good way to save money for other projects and to save food from being thrown away, because they officially expired but are still fine.
Something else we do on every distribution is, to set up two shower tents with showers. We bring fresh towels and underwear and all the other clothes and shoes we get from donations. Right now, as it is about to get winter, people are very much in need of any stuff that keep them warm. It is important that we can collect a lot of clothes and blankets, to have a big supply for the cold months, so we can distribute them on a long term.
Since a few weeks, we also use some car batteries to set up a charging station, people can use to charge their phones. It is crucial to have power on the phone at least most of the time, because they are often the most important source of information and the only way to contact family and friends. Unfortunately, they often break down because of the daily attempts to overcome national borders. That is, why donations of old phones (Smartphones or not) with charging cables are very much appreciated.
We are individual persons that are united in their fight for open borders and more self organization.
We are no association, no NGO(Non-Government-Organization) and no other sort of group that has any kind of name. We are individual persons that are united in their fight for open borders and more self organization. To make our voluntary work as helpful as possible for the people we want to support, we depend unfortunately on donations of money. Things like the showers or the charging station, regularly need some sort of reparation. New ideas to improve the situation often also need money to establish them. Recently for example we decided to buy two pavilions, to have a dry space for people on rainy days.
So, in case you have friends or relatives who can donate a little bit of money, to give it to some of the people with the lowest status in Europe, we are very thankful.
Also, our group of five persons will be soon a lot smaller, because four of us are going to leave. The person who stays will try to maintain the breakfast, the charging station and the showers together with people from Caen and Ouistreham. As you may imagine, it is a lot of work to do with a small amount of people. Because of that, we are looking for people who are interested in coming to the north of France for at least two weeks to support us.
We have left the curb to help our friends with washing the dishes, putting the shower tents in the sun to dry them and pack all the other stuff we set up and put it into the car.
Also the seagulls and ducks are done eating now, so they leave the place to go back to their waters. That is when the rats come out of their holes that are located between the channel and the turning circles. They eat everything, the birds did not find or did not want and free the place from the last leftovers. At the time we leave the turning circle behind us, you cannot tell that there were 150 people recently gathering to eat, to take a shower, to charge their phones and to play around with a football.
How to support us?
Urgent needed donation items:
old smartphones and regular phones with charging cables
strong and warm shoes with size 38-44 (European size)
Jackets, sweaters, trousers, gloves, hats and anything that keeps people warm
Camping mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets
Donations of money so we can keep our car in a good shape, to maintain and improve our “offers” and to put new ideas into action.
Become active yourself and come to Ouistreham to help us with hands and mind.
If you want to support us in any described way or you are interested in more information about the current situation, write an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be transmitted as soon as possible.
The author wants to stay anonymous.
Cover picture is kindly approved by the author.