Highgate councillor returns to Calais Jungle to reassure refugees Camden has not forgotten them
PUBLISHED: 21:00 04 September 2016 | UPDATED: 21:00 04 September 2016
Highgate councillor Sally Gimson returned to the Calais Jungle this week, a year after a photograph of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach woke the world up to the full horror of the Syrian crisis.
The Labour councillor first visited the notorious camp last year with Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer and felt compelled to go back to see what measures might be taken to ease the plight of the thousands stranded there.
Cllr Gimson was accompanied by her friend, Doughty Street barrister Katy Thorne, who is married to another Highgate councillor Oliver Lewis.
Ahead of her trip on Wednesday, Cllr Gimson told the Ham and High: “Katy originally raised money to build the shelters for the winter in Calais, and then we went back in January with Keir to have a look at how the shelters were being used, but also to raise awareness within the Labour Party.
“We want to go back because we’re worried that it’s getting worse and we want to see what the camp looks like at the moment.
“But we also want to know what we can do in Camden - is there anything we can do other than just hand over donations?”
The French government has said it wants to tear down the makeshift camp, where men, women and children survive in squalid conditions desperately seeking sanctuary in the UK.
Cllr Gimson, a mother of three, said the presence of so many children living in such desperate conditions is naturally distressing - but she prefers to focus on finding solutions rather than getting weighed down with emotion.
“You do feel very hopeless, but I’m a practical person so I try to be pragmatic and find ways to improve things. The reason we got Keir to come out last time was because he could then raise the plight of refugee children in the House of Commons.”
She said the group received a warm reception last time they were out there. “There are lots of British people out there helping, and they’re always glad to see more volunteers.
“We’ll try to reassure the people in the camp that people in Camden are still interested and this wasn’t something that was a flash in the pan.
“Calais is literally an hour away, and it’s unbelievable that so much suffering is going on just a train ride away from St Pancras.”
Cllr Gimson said it is deeply troubling that in spite of the Dubbs amendment - which allows unaccompanied refugee children with relatives living here to come to the UK - many of these children are still being denied entrance.
“We also want to see if there is anything we can do to support those children to come over here and be united with family members.
“This was something that was agreed by MPs and yet we have seen very little action on it.”
Cllr Gimson said she believes most people in Camden are sympathetic to the plight of refugees and want to help rather than fearing their entrance to the UK.
“I think there is a real tradition in this borough of helping refugees and most people feel that it is our duty to be helping as much as we can.
“Camden Council is doing what it can do resettle refugees, but it’s very difficult when the government is dragging its feet on the issue and doesn’t seem to want to do much.”