Migrants celebrating Christmas despite desperate camp conditions

PA

Around 100 Eritreans are celebrating a quiet but poignant Christmas Day, despite living in desperate conditions in migrant camps in northern France.

Among them is 19-year-old Aaron, a refugee who left the war-torn country that has seen high levels of violence and repression.

Thousands of people have been living in makeshift camps in the French town this year, with many seeking to cross to the UK.

“Christmas is a very important celebration for me,” Aaron said.

“In Calais, the celebrations will not be the same. We will not be able to share food or celebrate with fireworks as we usually do.

“I hope to share a meal with my friends here but it will not be the same without being able to give gifts and I may not be able to speak to my family which will be hard.”

Aaron is one of around 100 Eritreans living in Calais celebrating Christmas in whatever way they can, with many sharing a meal with friends.

Their homeland in Eastern Africa is a majority Christian nation but has suffered brutal repression in recent years.

Many of its people have fled the country amid political persecution and the threat of indefinite military service.

Migrant camp Christmas
Migrant camp Christmas

Looking back on Christmas in previous years, Aaron said: “Back home in Eritrea we would join together with my family to celebrate.

“We stay up until midnight and have drinks with our family, we usually let off fireworks to mark Christmas Day.

“We share gifts with each other and sit down for traditional Eritrean food, including my favourite injeera.”

Thousands of people have been living in and around the French town, often without access to proper healthcare or food supplies.

During the pandemic, the threat of Covid-19 has been ever-present, with social distancing not always possible and people at high risk of contracting the virus.

And in 2020, record numbers of people have risked the dangerous trip across the English Channel in everything from dinghies to kayaks.

Migrant camp Christmas
Migrant camp Christmas

More than 8,350 people have crossed to the UK aboard small boats this year, despite continued vows from the Home Office to make the route “unviable”.

As well as the migrants and refugees living near Calais, a team of 25 volunteers have swapped Christmas at home for Christmas in Calais.

They will be helping deliver vital aid to refugees and on December 25 they are giving out chocolate bars, playing cards, pens and notepads as gifts to those refugees who mark Christmas.

Back in the UK, hundreds of volunteers have been collecting warm coats for refugees the winter.

Imogen Hardman, operations co-ordinator for Care4Calais, is spending her first ever Christmas in Calais.

She said: “For me, Christmas has always been about celebrating with your family and community, and I’ve grown so close to the refugees and volunteers in Calais, they will be a wonderful community to spend Christmas with.

Migrant camp Christmas
Migrant camp Christmas

“Even though lots of the refugees in Calais don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s still so important they get food, warmth and kindness at Christmas time, as at any other time of the year.”

Clare Moseley, the charity’s founder, said: “2020 has been an awful year for refugees all over the world.

“They have the least resources to fall back on when a pandemic hits.

“They are so vulnerable, but our political leaders still refuse to treat them with basic human dignity.

“So every donation, every trip to France to volunteer, every aid delivery to refugees in UK hotels, makes an extraordinary difference to people who have nothing.”

To find out more about the Coats4Calais campaign, visit: https://care4calais.org/coats4calais/

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