ON 18 JUNE OVER 200 VEHICLES packed with aid and cash donations for the refugees in Calais rallied in Whitehall opposite Downing Street. ‘The event was organised with the intention of bringing not just aid, but an expression of solidarity with refugees from the people of the UK,’ explained Steve Sweeney of the People’s Assembly. ‘The timing was significant ahead of the EU referendum and the debate, which is being poisoned by racism. We made a number of key demands including an end to the racist EU-Turkey deal’.
People had come from across the UK to support the initiative organised by a coalition of groups and trade unions. Gwyneth Powell-Davies of the Bristol Unite Health branch explained how they had organised locally: ‘Three Unite branches (one giving £1,000), a Unison branch and several NUT branches contributed. There were also collections at churches and among friends.’
However, just two days before the event the French government banned the convoy, using their rolling state of emergency. Defiant activists travelled to Dover to find themselves detained by Kent police at the behest of the French. A standoff ensued as hundreds of people blockaded the port for two hours. This was followed by an angry protest back in London at the French embassy. Zak Cochrane of Stand Up to Racism said: ‘The attempt to ban us from delivering aid in France is about breaking our solidarity with refugees. But it will have the opposite effect. Local groups are already planning new dates to take over the aid and money they have collected.’