Helping new arrivals as the weather worsens
Last night, in my home on the south coast of England, I listened to the sounds of the search and rescue helicopter circling overhead. As I looked out into the darkness, I couldn’t help but think of the men, women and children that could be out in the sea, exhausted and terrified in tiny boats, a short distance away.
It was an utterly helpless feeling.
As autumn has drawn in sea conditions have become worse, and the risks greater.
September was a very busy month for our ERT, and October is proving to be just as busy. Last week alone, on Monday, we welcomed almost 100 people rescued on two lifeboats followed by around another 120 people on three lifeboats this week so far at Dungeness including families with young children.
One night as I walked up the beach with the newly-arrived refugees I met a family with a little two-year old daughter. Her dad was carrying her wrapped in a blanket, and I noticed she had somehow lost her shoes. I pulled a warm hat on her head, which made her laugh, and then I found some shoes and tried to put them on her feet, but she kept scrunching up her toes and giggling. Soon me, her mum and dad and other people around us were laughing too, despite the cold.
This was a reminder that while it’s wonderful to be able to offer people blankets, clothes, biscuits and water, what I believe makes the biggest difference to people arriving on our shores is our effort to treat them warmly as fellow human beings.
It actually takes very little to do this, and simple acts make a big difference. A smile. A warm greeting. An arm offered in support to someone struggling to walk up the stony beach, or someone just explaining the process of where they’ll be taken and what happens next.
These are all things that you’d expect any decent human being to do for others in this situation, and our ERT volunteers do them all the time. The service they provide is so important because so often in the conversations about small boat arrivals, it seems to be forgotten that these arrivals are just people. Brave and resilient people at that – and certainly not just numbers to be processed.
As the winter months draw closer, and the temperature inevitably drops the welcome and aid we provide will be needed more and more. To donate to our welcoming work, please go to peoplesfundraising.com/fundraising/c4c-ert