A Bedford-based charity volunteer moved by the plight of people fleeing war-torn nations has driven a truck load of supplies across the channel to Calais.
Ravi Gill, 38, along with his colleagues from Khalsa Aid, took pallets of water and food to the camp known as The Jungle.
He said: “We’ve been moved by the situation of people trying to flee areas of war and poverty. We’ve been talking about it for a while but on Saturday we said, we can do this for the people in Calais.”
Ravi got up at 3am the next day to drive to Slough, where the Khalsa Aid team loaded up the truck. From there, they headed to Dover to board a ferry to France where they then asked local people for directions to The Jungle.
Ravi has plenty of relief work experience having flown to Nepal, The Philippines and Haiti after natural disasters struck. Usually he carries out an assessment of what is needed before organising supplies.
He said: “This time we couldn’t plan ahead as we hadn’t met the guys on the ground. But the supplies went down well, and the aid workers couldn’t believe how much we had brought.
“Some of the guys living in the camp helped organise the queue for supplies. We experienced no hostility, we were met with warmth.”
Ravi, who works in construction, was shocked at what he saw in the Jungle. He estimated the area was designed for about 1,000 people but there are at least 3,000 people living there.
He said: “A lot of the shelters were made from tarpaulins, and there are people of many nationalities there, it’s like a world map.
“We met people from Syria, Iran, East Africa. They go to where they feel they will be safest.
“Some of those we met said in Syria, they were doctors and didn’t want to leave their country.
“We saw a group who had made a huge tent from tarpaulin which they all live in. On the outside was a sign saying, ‘No more war in my country. Please.’.
“I have heard people here pointing out the migrants and refugees have smart phones and question their need. But these are people who had a life before Calais. They were doctors, and engineers, and farmers. They didn’t want to leave but they’ve got kids. What do they do? These people are desperate.”
He added: “Any parent who would say the wide open sea is safer than the land they are standing on is making a massive decision.
“And yes, in Camp Jungle there are people who just want to better their life. What’s wrong with that?”
Since the shocking image of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach were published, there has been a growing movement across Britain of people donating clothes to be taken to Calais.
But from Ravi’s experience, it seems they may be wasting their time.
“I saw a lot of bags of clothes sitting about as they don’t really want them, they need food and water.
“A lot of the clothes are being wasted as they don’t fit or they are not suitable for the environment.
“It is fantastic people want to help, but we have to find out what the guys in the camp really need.”
Ravi added Khalsa Aid has people assessing the situations in Eastern Europe and Greece, “so it looks like we will be going back”.
Meanwhile there has been pressure on Bedford Borough Council from residents asking what its policy will be on providing assistance to those seeking asylum in the UK.
A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson said: “Bedford Borough Council is on hand to respond positively to the needs of refugees and we are already working with Government and supporting 39 unaccompanied asylum seeking children who have all reported to us that they came through Calais.”