Calais & Dunkirk 2016
These were my first experiences of the refugee crisis. The two camps, the Calais ‘Jungle’ and Dunkirk, at their height held more than 13,000 people. Conditions were disgusting, with sewage and rubbish everywhere. During one eviction period when french authorities evicted half of the Calais camp, I craned houses out of the path of destruction into the other half of the camp, this was a dangerous job as some nationalities do not miss easily.
After Calais, Serbia felt like hell on earth, faced with Balkan winter, the epople had taken shelter in an abandoned train station, and were burning railway sleepers, covered in asbestos, from the trains brakes, indoors, for warmth, to cook, and for light. The air was thick and everyone was coughing constantly. 1500 people lived in small groups roound a fire or in smaller rooms. We provided a phone charging point, and installed LED lights powered from car batteries, which they brought and charged from our generator every day.
While in Belgrade, Serbia, Refugee Art Trail was born…
With my chainsaw mill, we made lumber, and using some slabs I cut in Calais, we made a beautiful table. This inspired me to realize that if people aren’t bored, and are being creative, they feel better than if doing nothing. A group of visitors bought paint are we started painting the ‘Belgrade barracks’ with some colour.
The charging table led to a mobile version being made for people at the other side of the camp, this led to an application for funding from Hope and Aid Direct, and Catch a smile, to build a mobile power unit with solar panels and batteries. Unfortunately, the camp was evicted before the trailer was completed, but we do use it at events and it will feature massively in our land project in the near future.
Subotica – Northern Serbia, at the Hungarian border
Working with the team Fresh Responce, distributing food, clothes and tents/sleeping bags daily.
Out side the notorious Moria camp, there are a number of projects on Lesvos which you can get involved with, as Moria is a closed camp to volunteers not accosiated with the charites working insde. I lived in a large squat with some Afghani’s, and volunteered mostly at One Happy Family, a day center lying inbetween the family camp at Kara tepe, and Moria, just outside Mitilini, the main town. All the windows had been smashed so again with funding from Hope and Aid and Catch a smile, we repaired the windows using polythene sheeting. We cleaned and cleaned the two large squats, we built rooms at OHF, for classrooms, clothing distribution rooms, we floored the doctors surgery with another team of volunteers, and we distributed fishing equipment to the fathers fishing daily on the shore near where we lived. With further funding we made wood burners and installed them at a project called Humans for Humanity, and in the Olive grove , an area next to Moria where the camp spilled out into the local countryside when numbers were high, which was constanly.
Helping the boats to land
These 3 terrible pictures cannot come close to conveying the horror that it is to have to help land a boat with 60 terrified people, at night, who have just risked their lives, at sea in a rubber boat made for 10 people. To be handed crying babies, by crying mothers and fathers, and witness the fear at what just happened, it truly a disgusting feeling. Yet nightly for 4 plus years now teams of dedicated volunteers from around the world go and sit on cold shores in a few spots on Lesvos, and most likely Chios and Smaos too, and stare out to sea, and wait. During the 10-20 times i did this I only helped with 2 landing, but we saw Turkish patrol boats far out in the straights maneuvering all the time, and this means illegal push backs. Other times European “border force” vessels would intercept and take refugees straight to port on Lesvos, and once the border force circled the refugee boat, causing huge instability and almost sinking it. I have huge respect and admiration for the teams who practice this routine, and send energy and volunteers when possible.
Making a water transporting trailer
Also on Lesvos , again with funding money, we built a trailer to carry water to the Moria camp, as there was limited supply there, and less than a liter a day of clean water was all the residents of the camp had access to, and this through standing in line for hours.
Sea watch and Life Line 2018 – Sicily & Malta
Through the beach landing crews on Lesvos, I met a captain of the vessels which rescue the people from the seas, mainly between Africa and Italy by then as the crossing numbers from Turkey are a lot lower than from Libya now. It was February and the quietest time of the year, so the two ships were in port for routine maintenance, so we were de-rusting, welding, painting, doing wood work ect. it was an eye opening experience, and the stories of those who go to sea on these missions are pretty sad and full on. I hope to join the crews at sea once i have my sailing qualifications.
Ventimillia – Italian/French border 2018
My work on the ships was cut short by news that people were living under a motorway bridge in the snow in the North of Italy. As a tree surgeon I was sure i could help find firewood, so I set off on a 24 hour drive up from Sicily and meet the local teams volunteering there. Mostly Africans arrive in Europe by this route, and we had fun playing reggae on the 12v sound system I had made in Serbia. We searched for wood in the Alps, brought it back and cut it in the camp, hot meals were provided by a German group of volunteers, and non food items by an Italian group. People were trekking across the Alps, in February, in flip-flops, and there had been multiple deaths on route over the winter.
The donated truck – fit out
SO back in the UK for the first time on over a year, We are donated a truck by Hope and Aid direct, an amazing chance to build a purpose built project truck for the years ahead.
We added a living space, a workshop area at the back, bell boxes, a shower, a solar system, and more in the yard space kindly donated by Arcadia Spectacular in Bristol.
Unfortunately the truck is too heavy when filled with all my tools, the yurt and a motor bike, so it will be up for sale soon after 2 years in good service for refugee causes, so that we can upgrade to a more practical sized work horse capable of carrying everything we need to have on the road.
Tree climbing, skill sharing, and forest walks
Various pictures here, from taking the youngsters from the Serbia Belgrade camp for days out in the woods, making rope swings, and doing climbing lessons, to skill sharing on the famous Hambacher forest campaign against the largest open cast coal mine on earth, ( nothing to do with refugees ) to teaching my dear friend from Afghanistan to climb with harness and ropes to hopefully enable him to get tree surgery work here in Germany one day soon. This skill sharing initiative leads into my olive tree pruning project idea. see projects page. Huge thanks to the legend Congo Natty for making the donation which made these days out in Serbia for the children possible.
Bosnia and Athens 2018-19
With the new truck ready for a road test, I traveled down through serbia and caught up with old friends in Bosnia. We helped SPanish crew No Name Kitchen, who distributed food and set up showers in the Bosnian/Croatian border town Velika Vladusa, still a hot spot today. We helped fit wood burners and insulate living spaces in a squatted warehouse, tidied rubbish and made new living spaces possible.. The police were unfriendly to the English guys in the big truck through so we moved on the Athens. There we spent a couple of months helping in the huge squatted secondary schools, cutting firewood, installing hot water heaters and showers, all sorts of jobs.