Refugee volunteers detour to Belgium to avoid French blockade

Stuart Hubbard presents a cheque for £1,000 on behalf of Unison to Shetland Solidarity with Refugees. From left: Rita Smith, Bruce McCulloch,  Kaela McCulloch Tarrant and Jeanette Nowak. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Stuart Hubbard presents a cheque for £1,000 on behalf of Unison to Shetland Solidarity with Refugees. From left: Rita Smith, Bruce McCulloch, Kaela McCulloch Tarrant and Jeanette Nowak. Photo: Stephen Gordon

A group of volunteers is back in Shetland after taking a detour through Belgium to ensure their efforts to deliver aid to refugees in Calais camps were not thwarted.

Shetland Solidarity with Refugees set off last Thursday evening with a packed van, including a two-bedroom frame tent, to join a convoy heading for the French port with aid for people in need.

They were due to join a larger convoy taking aid to Calais but while travelling south they were made aware telling them the French police were preparing to blockade the convoy because of security fears. There are heightened tensions in France because of terrorism and violence fears as the country hosts the European football championships.

Kaila McCulloch was with the group and said the aid mission became “covert” when they received while in Aberdeen a call telling them, “there would be trouble in Dover as the French police weren’t allowing the convoy to go ahead”.

Already on the road the group vowed to continue and began to think of alternative routes.

First thoughts were to go through the Channel tunnel but they then thought the authorities probably already had their names so they might get turned back attempting this route.After looking at all the options they agreed that entering Europe from Hull was the safest option. This meant another 14-hour boat trip across to Zeebrugge in Belgium. They then drove the 80-miles to France and arrived in Calais.

The group had received texts warning them to take care in the French town and not put themselves or anyone else in danger. But they were determined to complete their mission, as this what those who had donated items expected of them.

When they arrived in Calais they made contact with the Care4Calais charity and the founder Clare Moseley gave directions to get to the refugees. Within 10 minutes of receiving directions they had arrived. Care4calais were extremely happy to see the well travelled Shetlanders and “were very grateful that we had managed to get the much-needed donations to them”.

Shetlanders and “were very grateful that we had managed to get the much-needed donations to them”.

The group spent time helping out in the warehouse before heading back to Calais to catch the ferry back to Dover and the hardy volunteers were back in Shetland on Monday morning. They did not enter the camp where 5,000 refugees are living but they did drive past it. Kaela said: “I can only say the conditions these poor souls are living in are a very long way from being acceptable”. She described the whole experience as very “humbling”.

The French authorities refuse to officially recognise the camp which means that large organisations such as the Red Cross and The United Nations will not enter an area without a mandate from the government. That means “they are unable to assist on the ground” said Ms McCulloch which made it all the more important the aid got through.

All told the group spent 44 hours at sea and drove more than 1,200 miles to get to Calais. They are extremely glad their journey was a success and said it would not have been possible without the generosity of the people of Shetland and help from the trade union Unison Shetland, Star Rent A Car, NorthLink Ferries, Artmachine and Martin Watt of Brevik House Properties Ltd. They arrived safely home on yesterday morning.

Prior to travelling south the group’s van had been filled in three days. This was the second batch of aid and on a much smaller scale than the previous effort. Donations were delivered to Brevik House Properties Ltd.

Spokeswoman Jeanette Nowak said they were amazed by the generosity of the Shetland public.
Before they left a raffle was drawn and Deborah Mallet won the prize of a collage by Jeanette.


Add Your Comment
  • James Leask

    • June 21st, 2016 11:57

    The French had a good reason for trying to stop people enabling the illegal economic immigrants. Look at the carnage they caused yesterday:

    All of these people if they are in such need of help can claim asylum at any time in France or any of the other safe countries they must have traveled through to get all the way to where they are now. No one ever seems to answer this question why they don’t if they are genuine refugees. I would think that its due to nearly all of them actually being economic migrants.

    • Brian Smith

      • June 21st, 2016 14:52

      Aren’t you just delighted that UKIP is going to get a bloody nose on Thursday?

      • Laurence Paton

        • June 21st, 2016 17:15

        I note a lot of commentators are predicting massive gains to UKIP in the event of a remain vote.

        Similar to the massive gains the SNP achieved after losing their referendum.

        I wouldn’t get too delighted just yet…….

      • Ali Inkster

        • June 22nd, 2016 1:11

        Aren’t you delighted that with such a large share of the fish stocks we get such a small share of the EU fisheries funding?

      • John Tulloch

        • June 22nd, 2016 8:40

        UKIP, Brian, you mean 50 percent of the country are UKIP supporters?

        I was kind of hoping that the neoliberal EU would be the ones who would get a bloody nose on Thursday – Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t like them very much, either, not much signs of “caring and sharing” in Greece and elsewhere in southern Europe, is there?

        This linked abstract from a 2013 paper (i.e. before there was to be a referendum) from Cambridge Political Economic Society says it all – here’s a snippet:

        Europe’s Crisis without End: The Consequences of Neoliberalism

        “….. the eurozone crisis is the product of a toxic neoliberal economic policy cocktail. The mixing of that cocktail traces all the way back to the early 1980s when Europe embraced the neoliberal economic model that undermined the income- and demand-generation process via wage stagnation and widened income inequality.”

  • Brian Smith

    • June 21st, 2016 13:57


    • Ali Inkster

      • June 21st, 2016 15:30

      Oh and one more peerie snippet, da EU is exploiting Africa with more vigour today than ever the colonial powers did in the past, it is no joost wir fish stocks dir pillaging, da vast bulk of the fish caught of the shores of that great continent are hoovered up by EU super trawlers there with the aid of the EU commission. Local populations benefit not one bit from this arrangement.

  • Ali Inkster

    • June 21st, 2016 15:23

    I wonder why all these people in Calais are so desperate to get out of the EU? Could they know something wir MP MSP and cooncil leader don’t?

  • Eric Burgess-Ray

    • June 21st, 2016 16:59

    Everyone should applaud the effort of those volunteers that delivered much needed help to Calais. Having worked in France for twenty-five years I know how daunting it can be trying to avoid the refugees trying to get into your vehicle if it looks like you are bound for the UK. I was threatened with a Stanley knife more than once, and I doubt many of the people camped out in Calais are genuine refugees.

    The blame for the mess over there rests with the French authorities, especially the police, who are more than happy to see them get to the UK, as it moves their problem to somebody else.

  • Ali Inkster

    • June 22nd, 2016 1:08
    • Alvin Leong

      • June 23rd, 2016 18:44

      It will be funny if they are breaking into a Northwards truck at Aberdeen.


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