In August last year Libby Freeman got so ‘pissed off’ nothing was being done about the plight of refugees in Calais she took matters into her own hands.
She collected donations of supplies and headed down to Calais in her Transit van, eventually founding refugee charity Calais Action six months later.
Libby has now made at least ten trips to the French port – she can’t remember exactly how many – and is involved in various projects helping displaced populations.
The most recent project saw a shipping container filled with 1200 ‘survival backpacks’ containing hats, gloves, toys and messages sent to refugees in Greece.
However, in spite of all their efforts, the group have become the target of internet trolls attacking their Facebook page with anti-refugee sentiment: “Around Christmas we were just bombarded with trolls. It was almost like we were under attack,” she told us.
Faced with the increasing amount of negativity being pushed at them, a friend of Libby’s suggested setting up a pledging system in an attempt to turn the hate into positivity.
In an inspired response, the group set up TrollAid, an online donation page created to combat the negative response from some people towards refugees.
When a troll posts something, Calais Action will post the TrollAid link underneath the comment and invite everyone to donate what they can.
You can even leave a personalised message for the hater, and that particular troll can see how much money they’ve inadvertently donated to migrants. So far, the page has raised more than £600 of its £1,000 target.
Libby told us:
Hopefully it’s a win-win situation, because it will help stop people speaking out negatively by highlighting the abuse, and we’ll raise some extra money.
However, there is more to the idea, Libby hopes that it will provide an opportunity for discussion around the subject of the refugee crisis:
We don’t just want to shut people down, more importantly we want to educate. Some of these people are out and out bigots, they’re BNP or Britain First – you can’t change their minds.
But a lot of people just don’t understand the situation, and if you can get just one person to change their attitude, who knows, maybe they’ll pass it on to their friends.
There is a growing feeling that this ground-up reaction to the crisis is becoming increasingly important in applying pressure to the government, following their slow reaction to the humanitarian situation in Calais.
In fact, since Libby first went to Calais last summer, the population of the camp has soared to over 7,000. Conditions have never been great there, but she described a sense of community, with the camp boasting temporary businesses including barbers’ shops, grocers’ and even restaurants.
However, things have recently taken a turn for the worse. In an attempt to provide ‘better accommodation’ for the refugees the French government ordered the bulldozing of large areas of the site, to make room for ‘shipping container housing’.
Unfortunately, the amount of shelter they provide hasn’t covered the amount of people displaced by the bulldozers, worsening many peoples’ situation and destroying fledgling ‘communities’.
Hopefully with the support of projects like Calais Action these types of incidents will have less impact on refugee communities, and people seem to be loving the TrollAid idea.
“I think it’s an idea that could be applied to any number of projects,” says Libby. “One commenter has already suggested that it should be used in the face of climate change deniers!”
Commenting on the TrollAid page, Billy Hogan said:
What a fantastic idea. Life doesn’t feel quite so bad when you see people capable of such ingenuity and compassion in the face of these bigots.
To donate to Calais Action visit their Facebook page.