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They are here because we were there: A Report from #BSC2Calais

Monday 04-01-2016 - 09:51

On Sunday 13 December 2015, several activists and committee members from the NUS Black Students Campaign joined London2Calais on their Winter Solidarity Convoy.

What became apparent to a lot of those in attendance was the limitations of providing solidarity purely in the form of charity. There is a desperate need for an organised political movement; one that challenges the racist immigration policies of successive governments, be they right or liberal, and forcefully makes the demand for borders to be opened and detention centres shut.

 “#BSC2Calais was a great, eye-opening experience that left me wanting to do more for the refugees in Calais. These are people – yes REAL PEOPLE – not just pictures on the Internet, and they are living in the worst conditions with no idea what their next move will be. Going to the refugee camp shows the immense need for the UK to open its borders!”

- Andrea, from the Black Students Committee

This is not to say that the practical solidarity being offered has no use, rather it is an echo of the strong call from those who have journeyed from afar in search of sanctuary and refuge: the situation in Calais is a man-made crisis born out of the racist policies, at home and abroad, therefore requiring a political solution. Going on convoys enables us to move out of our places of comfort and see the situation for ourselves, it allows us to meet fellow human beings struggling for a dignified life and provides us with a much-needed push to align ourselves with their fight.

 “It was a chilling, eye opening and an emotional experience. The people in the jungle were so friendly and welcoming despite the ghastly environment they were living in, which was just amazing yet sad to see they have to endure so much. Also to hear their stories of the traumas they were escaping from and  know the traumas they were facing at the hands of the French police and the fascists (they were tear gassed by the French police and the French nationalists were marching around the area on the day) was heart-breaking. I am grateful to have been able to help.”

-  Akosua Darko, NUS Wales Black Students’ Officer

Though this point was made before, it needs repeating. Charity alone, and other forms of hierarchical relations, between those with papers and those without are no longer a sufficient response. Whilst necessary for the survival of refugees, we’ve seen the limits of so-called aid work in resolving the situation over the many years migrants have been stranded in Calais.

“The convey cemented in me the need for a more radical and active response to the situation. We all give aid and know how bad things are - but seeing it first hand is both heartbreaking and motivating.”

- Hajera Begum, NUS London Black Students’ Officer 

It is worth mentioning here that the only reason people have organised practical solidarity for migrants, whether in the form of convoys to Calais and Lesvos or #RefugeesWelcome actions, is because of the failures of European states. We are under no illusion that this is due to the camp inhabited primarily by people from the Global South, and this is just a further example in the long list of ways that anti-blackness operates.

Many points can be made about the camp and the situation in which the migrants are living, but not all of them are negative. The migrants have been incredibly resourceful and shown great resilience in the face of such precariaty, even though they should never have needed to have been. There are lessons we can – and must draw from them – in terms of pushing back against injustice. We need to be consistent, persistent and insistent in our campaigns for justice and equality; from Preventing Prevent to the #StandByMe campaign launched last month, there is a lot of work that remains to be done on our campuses.

The NUS Black Students Campaign will be organising #BSC2Calais convoys, with support and guidance from London2Calais volunteers. If you would like to get involved or find out more about the work the campaign does, contact malia.bouattia@nus.org.uk or find us on Facebook or Twitter @nusBSC.

This convoy was joined by:

Akosua Darko – NUS Wales BSO

Hajera Begum – NUS London BSO

Samayya Afzal – NUS NEC

Shabina Raja – NUS BSC/NEC

Aadam Siciid Muuse – NUS BSC

Andrea Thomas – NUS BSC

Zarah Sultana – NUS BSC

Azfar Shafi – University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Ilyas Nagdee – University of Manchester Union

Isra Ahmed – University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Jaffrina Jahan – University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Jordan Stephen – The Union, Manchester Metropolitan University

Kyle Gray – University of Leeds Union

Naa Acquah – University of Manchester Union

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