Using the GoAbroad Fund, I traveled to Calais in Northern France to volunteer with HelpRefugees, an organization that provides migrants with meals and material assistance. I choose to volunteer with this organization because I was writing my MSc dissertation on refugee policy in the UK and Canada, which is influenced by migration issues in Europe. This placement enabled me to see first-hand the difficulty of those fleeing conflict abroad by seeking refuge in Europe. Although I had been volunteering with resettled refugees in Edinburgh, prior to going to Calais, I had very little interaction with forced migrants and asylum seekers. I wanted to know more about the issues that migrants are confronted with on a daily basis, beyond what I had heard and read in the media.
For a week, I sorted and washed clothing donations, and helped in the kitchen to prepare food to be distributed at sites throughout Calais where migrants had been camped. A great thing about HelpRefugees is that it runs workshops for volunteers so that they can learn more about migration issues in order to sensitively engage with refugees. After having completed training sessions, I was able to assist in the distribution of meals at various locations in the area. One of the most meaningful parts of my meal distribution shift was that I was able to speak Arabic with one of the migrants from Somalia, which was significant because I have been studying the language for the past two years. I think that one of the difficulties of encountering refugees and forced migrants is realizing that if I had lived in a region in the midst of conflict, I could have been in the same position as them. I also struggle with the fact that women and children are especially vulnerable in the migration process. Having volunteered last summer with refugees in Egypt, and this year with refugees in the UK, my experience made me realize that the transit process is the most traumatic period for refugees fleeing conflict because it contains immense uncertainty.
I found it deeply moving to be part of the work of HelpRefugees, even for a short period of time. Many volunteers that I worked with had given up months and years of their lives to assist in the organization’s projects for migrants and refugees. It was amazing to work with volunteers from all over the world who were passionate about refugee issues. When I returned to the Edinburgh to finish my dissertation, I had gained a fresh perspective and new insight into the people that are deeply affected by refugee policy in Canada and the UK and the struggles that they encounter simply because they want to live in a safe place where they have better opportunities for the future.