Part fact finding mission and part charity drive, three councillors from Derry and Strabane District council will set off for the camps at Calais on Sunday night to show solidarity with the refugees, whose numbers are increasing day by day.
Independent councillors Darren O’Reilly, Gary Donnelly and Paul Gallagher will each drive a van to the French port which yesterday saw another tragic death at the mouth of the Channel Tunnel, where a man found dead this week.
The death of the East African man is the eleventh such tragedy since June of this year. And during his visit, Councillor O’Reilly will be keeping the Derry public informed of the conditions being endured by refugees with a daily update via Facebook and Twitter before he arrives home on Wednesday night.
“This is more of a fact finding mission really,” said Councillor O’Reilly.
“At the moment there are around 50 extra refugees arriving at Calais everyday and the conditions there were already horrendous which I’m sure we are all already aware of. But with these extra people fleeing from places like Syria and Iraq things will be getting progressively worse every day.
“This crisis is immediate and we feel that it is very much on our door step. Calais is the closest port to Ireland where refugees are landing. It’s just a drive to where these horrible things are happening to people every day and we decided between us that we would go and see for ourselves exactly what is happening and report back to them.
“Thanks to the generosity of spirit of the Derry people we have three vans filled with the essentials to take over with us. “A lot of charity drives for the refugees have asked for money and that’s fine of course if you have ready cash to donate but a lot of people from the areas that we collected in have very little in the way of money to spare.
“But they have given us old coats and boots and have collected bits from places like the Pound Shop; toothbrushes, soaps and nappies.
“If you went and asked them to give money every month or something like that they wouldn’t be able to do it but they still wanted to show people stranded at Calais that they care. The bit about Derry people being the most generous is absolutely true. We found that when we were collecting people literally gave us whatever they had to spare.
“To me that is a very powerful gesture. I found that very moving.
“What we want to do is listen to people; to the human side of the story .
“We can watch the news all we want and see people suffering but we want to get out there and listen to what is actually happening and come back informed enough to share that reality with people here.”
“We didn’t set out to look for a lot of publicity on this or to do massive collections. We decided to take over what was being offered to us because we were going anyway and obviously what ever we can bring will be much appreciated.”
Check for updates from Darren O’Reilly on the Derry Journal website from Tuesday of next week.