This weekend, a group of activists from London cycled en masse to donate bikes to the refugees living in the makeshift camps in Calais, France. Individuals and bike shop owners united to drive 100 bikes to Calais, to give them to people who currently walk over seven kilometres per day into the town centre to access support services.
Cyclists from the capital gathered at Barnehurst Rail Station in South East London to begin their 95-mile cycle. Support vans accompanied the riders, carrying extra bikes and donations.
The group of organisers behind the event have been overwhelmed at the response. Speaking of the rationale behind the convoy, the organisers said: "Most cyclists can relate to the sense of freedom, mobility and self-sustainability afforded by the bicycle. For people living in the camps, bicycles are an invaluable asset, improving quality of life by increasing access to basic essentials like the local shop and support and advice services, currently over an hour’s walk away."
There has been a surge in self-organised donations to the camps from the UK by individuals frustrated with the Conservative government’s failure to provide support to those fleeing war and persecution. One cyclist, Katy from New Cross, said: "You can feel powerless, just sharing articles on Facebook and talking with your mates, but this was an opportunity to get up and do something directly. Coming here was also an opportunity to show solidarity with the people living here. To show that there are British people who want them to make it to the UK."
Donations are being centralised through Calais-based organisations such as Secours Catholique and Calais, Ouverture et Humanité. Despite the number of bikes donated, the demand for transport remains overwhelming. With 3,000 people living in the camps, the one volunteer-run bike workshop on site has been overwhelmed with demand for bikes and parts for repairs.
Organisations on the ground have been inundated with supplies of clothes for women and children and are now calling for more targeted supplies of bikes and bike parts as well as tarpaulins and men’s waterproofs, wellington boots, socks and underwear and for increased manpower to organise and dispense supplies.
While the government of Britain may not want to deal with the Calais crisis, it’s obvious that a lot of its people do.