A temporary warehouse in a disused sports hall in east Leeds has become the epicentre of the city’s aid effort for Syrian refugees camped in Calais and Dunkirk. Aisha Iqbal reports.
“We get very focused on the things that save lives. When in actual fact, what people need is hope. A teddy bear, or some makeup, something that makes you feel good about yourself.”
These are the words of Mick Thomas, who is overseeing a major operation to deliver that very sliver of hope to thousands of refugees in camps in Calais and Dunkirk.
Mick is a volunteer with Yorkshire Aid, which was set up just 12 weeks ago as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Most of the piles of clothes, teddy bears and other donated items - piled into the disused sports hall in Richmond Hill which has become the project’s epicentre - will end up being delivered direct to the camps in France.
The latest convoy is due to leave Leeds today (Friday).
The politics is not our job. Our job is to keep people alive for long enough for there to be a solution.
Some of the items may end up being given to Syrian refugee families arriving in Leeds and Yorkshire as part of the Government’s resettlement program.
“People have responded incredibly well,” Mick told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“The other day we had two vans which came through the floods from Upper Wharfedale.
“They were diverted at least twice - and they must have stripped the entire dale clean.”
Mick estimates that around 100,000 items have been donated by the public.
He admits conditions in the camps are tough - and tensions can run high.
But he says: “The politics is not our job. Our job is to keep people alive for long enough for there to be a solution.”
The local aid effort is being backed by Leeds City Council and a network of charities supporting refugees, including the City of Sanctuary.
Councillor Debra Coupar, the council’s executive board member for communities, said: “We realised there was an overwhelming response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis from the city and people wanted to do something to help.
“We had a disused building here that’s not been used for a number of years. And we had organisations in the city that are collecting all these donations. So we put the two together.
“You just have to look around here. People in Leeds have huge amounts of goodwill and they want to help people who are in desperate need.”