British World War II veteran’s solidarity with Calais refugees

This video says about itself:

Refugees Welcome‘ demonstration Calais | Syrian refugee‘s message to David Cameron

A partially-blind Syrian refugee speaks at the Stand Up to Racism ‘Refugees Welcome’ demonstration in ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais; sending a message to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Saturday 17th October, 2015.

By Caroline Gregory in Britain:

Worse than after WWII: Harry Leslie Smith‘s condemnation of ‘the Jungle’

Wednesday 11th November 2015

The campaigning veteran and author recently visited the Calais camp to see for himself the place that is home to 6,000 refugees.

WINTER has been slow to arrive at the Calais refugee camp, but just this last week the mornings have had a new chill to the air.

“I’m too angry to be cold,” said veteran campaigner Harry Leslie Smith, “this is absolutely disgraceful.”

Smith’s early morning visit took in the church, sanitation arrangements, schools and medical provision. The conditions are “a disgrace to our Western nations,” he said.

Smith is well-known for his campaigning on austerity, the NHS and humanitarian issues. Harry’s Last Stand, his book published last year, is a powerful invective on today’s world and current politics.

As he himself said: “I am not an historian but, at 91, I am history, and I fear its repetition.”

The worry that history is repeating is what motivates a lot of the British volunteers, many of whom have left their jobs in order to help in Calais indefinitely.

Organisations such as Help Refugees (formerly Help Calais) began as small fundraising operations which rapidly filled the gap that NGOs such as the Red Cross would generally fill.

The politics surrounding migration have resulted in a noticeable absence of the large charities on the ground.

Nonetheless it is startling to hear someone who has lived through extreme poverty, the Great Depression and World War II RAF campaigns describe somewhere in 21st-century France as “appalling.”

The vast majority of the British volunteers here are under 40. This is beyond anything most have ever witnessed. Smith’s shocked reaction confirms fears. The Calais “Jungle” does not meet even minimum refugee camp standards.

Last week the French court ordered the government to implement camp improvements within eight days.

Some 6,000 residents from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan are living in the shanty town, burning waste for heat and to make small cooking fires.

Three water points service the entire camp, although the supply is contaminated with E coli.

The Pas-de-Calais prefecture has been told to install more water points, waste collection and some semblance of child protection for unaccompanied minors.

The improvements would naturally cost thousands of euros. The fine for failing to comply? Just €100 a day.

Smith was visibly moved at the sight of refugees lining up to receive basic supplies, likening it to queues in Soviet Russia.

These men are dignified, intelligent, many are lawyers and engineers. Many have also previously lived for extended periods in Britain and carved out successful and productive lives.

Near the tent that serves as an occasional school, Smith recalls his childhood.

“I had a bad young life. My parents didn’t have the funds to provide food for us. It affects family life when money is short and your living conditions are bad — it’s a fact of life that I can vouch for.”

Many of the youngsters here are unaccompanied or living in groups, which seems difficult to comprehend in Britain where there are strict child protection rules and criminal records checks for those who work with children.

Smith explains to a Syrian five-year-old that he himself had to start work at just seven years old.

Now 92, Smith is more indomitable than ever. He nimbly hoists himself up backwards onto a high carpeted bench inside a makeshift Afghan cafe and takes in his surroundings.

He describes the refugee camps in Hamburg after World War II, with shelters neatly arranged in rows.

“It was organised. It looked like a little town, well-kept. The people there were starving too, but they were well looked after. It frightens me here. Quite honestly, I don’t know how they are coping.”

Two years ago Smith announced he was wearing the remembrance poppy for the last time. He explained that, for him, the symbol has been hijacked as a justification for present conflicts and national austerity.

This RAF veteran is far from unpatriotic, however. As he said at the time: “My despair is for those who live in this present world.”

He is also relying on Britain to solve this refugee situation in Calais, and makes a final appeal.

“Don’t start thinking: ‘It’s not me, it doesn’t matter, they’re not near me.’

“Please start thinking as human beings. We must get this fixed immediately — I’m sure as hell hoping and relying on British ingenuity and guts.”

20 thoughts on “British World War II veteran’s solidarity with Calais refugees

  1. Thursday 12th November 2015

    posted by Morning Star in Britain

    CAMPAIGNERS calling for larger numbers of refugees to be welcomed in Britain will hold a vigil today outside Downing Street.

    The event has been called by the Stand Up To Racism campaign on the back of a series of reports about refugees suffering from hypothermia and freezing in camps across eastern Europe.

    Organiser Sabby Dhalu said: “Across Europe we are seeing refugees without proper shelter, warmth, food and sanitation and aid agencies lacking resources to cope.

    “In 21st-century Europe human beings should not be living like this.

    “With winter approaching unless EU governments including Britain step up and do more, this situation will worsen.”

    Hundreds are expected to assemble in front of No 10 and warn Prime Minister David Cameron of the impending catastrophe.

    Anti-racism activist Weyman Bennett added: “Thousands of people could freeze to death in camps this winter because David Cameron is telling them there is no room at the inn.”


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