herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

'Calais camp is the worst I've seen', says Irish mum trying desperately to help refugees

Tracey Ryan who is helping refugees in Calais
Tracey Ryan who is helping refugees in Calais

A PREGNANT Irish woman helping refugees at the French port of Calais has described the notorious 'Jungle' camp as "the worst place I've ever seen and the best place I've ever visited".

Tracey Ryan (36) said that while the refugees are living in desperate conditions, the camp is also full of "resilient, resourceful people".

Business owner and mum-of-one Tracey, who is six months pregnant, was shocked at the images of the Mediterranean refugee crisis that emerged during the summer.

Along with her husband Gavin (41) they came up with the idea of bringing a van full of goods to Calais.

Within days of setting up the Cork Calais Refugee website, the shocking picture of three year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to get to Europe, dominated news broadcasts worldwide.

A picture taken in Calais on October 7, 2015 shows a site dubbed the
A picture taken in Calais on October 7, 2015 shows a site dubbed the "New Jungle",

Donations spiralled to more than €100,000 and the renamed Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity recruited 53 volunteers, who travelled to France this week in a convoy of four trucks.

Tracey  was shocked by the scenes that greeted them on their arrival.

"There are thousands of people living without basics needs like shelter, sanitation and heat. It's a shanty town, a slum beyond anything I've ever seen on our doorstep in Europe.

"But despite the filth and chaos it's a functioning, welcoming village with shops and restaurants run by refugees. These are resilient, resourceful people," she told the Herald.

"Word has spread all over the camp about the Irish team and every day as we went through the camp people called out 'Hi Irish'.

"We built shelters for vulnerable families, built a women and children's shelter and our medical team treated over 1,000 people there," she explained.

She said that her team were emotional as they left the camp to return home yesterday, but her group will be helping the refugees over the winter.

"It was really hard to leave, but there's a great sense of passion as there's a lot of work to do," she said.

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