We were driving to our new SOS Chai location in Ouistreham, 10 miles out of Caen, when we spotted a police van blue-lighting in the other direction. The driver pulled off the main road and turned into a disused car park, about half way between the port and the city. We wondered why, but didn’t need to wait for too long to find out.
About an hour later, as we were serving dinner, our Sudanese friend Hari arrived, late and out of breath. His English is exceptional and he explained that the blue lights were for him. The Police had dragged him out from the truck-underside he was clinging to and had deposited him around three miles out of the town. He ran back, hungry. Tomorrow he will try again. We’ve talked at length to Hari about why he takes such risks – he can only answer that it is his dream to get to the UK. Along with 100 or so others he is sleeping rough – the nearest they have to a bed is a collapsed cardboard box – and working effectively full-time at trying to jump a truck. England, for Harry, is more than a destination. It is a mythological kingdom, and his only life goal. He can, and will, risk everything to get there.
The UK’s Daily Mail ran an article last week on the alleged new “back door” into the UK through the port of Ouistreham. They failed to mention that the reason for the sudden increase in the number of homeless migrants in Ouistreham is that 80 of them were fire-bombed out of their squat in Caen a few days earlier.
The fire that destroyed the squat on the Presqu’île has had two significant affects – it has increased the number of young men sleeping rough, and it has boosted exponentially the urgency with which they now want to get to the UK. They know winter is coming, and are feeling its effects already, and with no roof over their heads their dangerous and repeated attempts to climb onto and under trucks must seem almost rational…
Our SOS CHAI project has followed the Sudanese boys to the coast, and we now meet them each Wednesday evening in a field not far from their make-shift camp in the woods. They are cold and very hungry – we estimate that they eat twice to three times per week. Their numbers are growing, which makes them ever more visible to the local population and Police, and renders their efforts to board a boat more and more difficult.
For our part, we are committed to stick with them for as long as is needed. Providing one hot meal a week seems so little, but when they are hardly eating, it can mean the difference between health and collapse. Our van, nick-named Mr T, is not doing too well with the extra mileage and may well soon fail us. We are looking to buy a new, more robust vehicle and with it “tour” two or three spots in Ouistreham where the boys congregate. We’ve served around 60 hot meals on each of the past two Wednesdays, but we could very easily need to cater 100+ in the days ahead.
Our role – while politicians across Europe discuss the crisis and Hari and his friends just keep trying – is to love and serve a group of young men who have nothing. We concentrate on hot, nutritious food and where we can we add a distribution of clothes, blankets and toiletries. Unlike a well-known religious leader of the ancient world, we are not finding it too hard right now to answer the question “who is my neighbour?”
to support the work of SOS CHAI see our page on Just Giving. If your gift is to help buy a new van, please indicate this in the reference. We also need team members – see details HERE and a job spec HERE. With more people available to help, we can help a lot more people.
The image below is from the Daily Mail – but it is also the exact spot we meet to feed the boys…