St Albans volunteers visit refugees at Dunkirk camp

Liz Needham centre with 18 of the other StAR volunteers

Liz Needham centre with 18 of the other StAR volunteers - Credit: Archant

A trustee of a local refugee charity that made their most prominent trip to France yet has spoken of their moving experience.

Some of the StAR volunteers helping to clean in the Calais Jungle

Some of the StAR volunteers helping to clean in the Calais Jungle - Credit: Archant

Liz Needham, trustee of St Albans for Refugees (StAR), visited Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps earlier this month with 18 other volunteers to deliver food, clothing and generators.

They first travelled to Calais to drop off food and clothing donations to the French charity L’Auberge Des Migrant’s warehouse, where three of them stayed to help sort through them.

Liz said: “They were delighted with the huge amounts of food.”

The rest of the volunteers made their way to the Calais Jungle where 12 volunteers stayed to help clear up part of the camp and three of them, including Liz, then made their way to the new refugee camp in Dunkirk.

Volunteers from StAR line up to distribute donatiosn to the donation warehouse in Calais

Volunteers from StAR line up to distribute donatiosn to the donation warehouse in Calais - Credit: Archant


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The money raised by the St Albans-based charity funded five generators, which will provide power to the community kitchen, the first aid tent, the new school and the women and children centre - all the generators the camp needed.

The three volunteers were then invited to have dinner with a 21-year-old refugee Besh, a talented musician, and his mother, after they gifted him a donated violin.

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Besh told them his story of how he, his mother, and his four brothers fled Iraq after his father, a sergeant in the Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga, called to say that his village was under threat from ISIS.

They fled to Turkey, then onto Greece, where the men were detained for five days. Upon their release, they could not find their mother.

With no means of contacting her, and only a picture on an old phone, they journeyed through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany to find her.

In Germany the men were told to travel to France by another refugee after she recognised the picture, but by the time they reached the country the phone no longer worked.

Forty five days after they were separated, the family were reunited in the Grand-Synthe Dunkirk camp after the men went around the camp calling their mother’s name.

Liz said: “I am a pragmatic woman not easily moved to tears but to hear this dignified young man quietly telling the story of his family, without bitterness or recrimination, while his mother watched wordlessly nearly broke me.

“Besh told us that the main thing he wanted was to live somewhere safe, in a democratic society, where he and his brothers could be educated and could work to support themselves and their mother.”

The volunteers shared dinner with Besh and his mother and later said their goodbyes.

Liz added: “Walking away from this bring and talented young man was heartbreaking. He and his family cannot go back to Mosul and they are not allowed to settle in the place where they would best fit in.

“For me, this was one of the most difficult but fulfilling days I have ever experienced with StAR.”

If you would like to donate or find out more information about StAR, click here.

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