Why refugees love joggers
Today was a good day. We gave out 202 pairs of new joggers – the kind the refugees here like, with narrow legs, tie waistband, a cuff at the bottom, and zip pockets.
It might sound strange to have such strong preferences, but there are important reasons for them. The narrow legs and tie mean almost any size will more or less fit you; the zip pockets may well be the most secure place you have to keep your paper and phone; the cuff bottom means they don’t drag in the mud.
“I like these, they are safe,” a young Eritrean man called Jemal told me, holding up a new pair of joggers that I’d just handed him. “If you have a bag, it can be taken. It’s better to keep your papers close.”
It was lovely to see the big grin on Jemal’s face, but also incredibly sad to think that this fine young man had to worry like this. It isn’t thieves he fears; it’s the police, who regularly stomp into camps and take away everything they can carry.
We were at “the fort”, a patch of open ground near Fort Nieulay in the west part of Calais. Close to a big Auchan supermarket, the fort is a beautiful spot, with about 250 people – many from Sudan – living there.
They cause no trouble, but the local authorities are hostile and endlessly aggressive to them. They recently put huge boulders across the entrance to stop our vans getting in. These boulders have spoiled this pleasant place and ruined the parking area for everyone – all because the authorities don’t like charities giving food and clothing to hungry, cold and penniless refugees.
Even after years of coming here, the cruelty in Calais still astonishes me sometimes.
Doing distributions every day is hard work – it’s rewarding but it’s hard. The team leaders have to be so well organized and prepared. Anything might happen, from a downpour of rain to a rude police intervention. And not all the refugees understand the process of waiting, social distancing, and queuing in one line for fairness. All this has to be explained carefully in words and actions.
Today we arrived as a small but well organised team – there’s only 12 of us at the moment. Everything went well, and we had enough joggers in every size. It was ace to see smiles on the often-sombre faces – I noticed some refugees were putting the new trousers on as they were leaving the line at back of the van !
It meant that we finished the week on a high, and there’s nothing nicer than that for both volunteers and refugees.
Every site we have been to this week has been bustling, many people in need and reliant solely on our organisation for support. We also provide services such as hairdressing kits, games, sewing, bicycle repair kits, plus hot and cold drinks with a biscuit. Basically, we fill the gap that governments wish to leave gaping.
As we left, and I looked back at the refugees at the fort, I found myself thinking about the soldiers who, 80 years ago were fighting here to protect us all. They would have helped a lot of scared, lonely, homeless people and refugees at the time. I wondered now what they’d have made of police and local authority chiefs who destroyed people’s belongings, and moved huge boulders so that ordinary people couldn’t help feed and clothe those who have no home, no money, nothing.
Somehow, I didn’t think they’d be too impressed, do you?
To volunteer or donate go to Care4Calais.org