One volunteer on the convoy in Januarycamcrag

“I wasn’t aware of how people could be so cruel,″ says Amy. We’re in the subterranean Varsity office talking about her and four other Cambridge students’ experience volunteering for a refugee charity based in Calais. The trip was organised by the Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group (CamCRAG), a Cambridge-based charity that organises convoys to Calais.  She’s referencing how she saw the French police arresting a disabled refugee in broad daylight as she left the coach she took from Cambridge to Calais.

Sakshi adds that the French police have a reputation for being cruel to refugees. They’ve been known to purposefully disrupt the lives of refugees, sabotaging the plots of land that they live on by uprooting the soil and destroying supplies: “It’s these acts of personal cruelty that aren’t covered in the media so you don’t see the extent of it until you watch it happen firsthand,” she says. That’s why it was so important to her to go on this trip.

“Debates like these aren’t just for our own academic pleasure”

Amy, Sakshi, and Monique are all part of a group from Cambridge Freedom from Torture, a new University-wide society founded in Michaelmas 2022 whose aim is to raise money to help survivors of torture and to campaign for the rights of asylum seekers. They spent the weekend of Week One volunteering at a refugee resource centre in Calais, where they helped with everything from organising sleeping bags to peeling potatoes in the kitchen. They all had different motivations for taking a weekend out of their time to go to Calais, but they all shared the overarching desire to learn more about the lives of refugees and to help out in any way they could.

Two convoy volunteers help prepare foodCAMcrag

“Calais is something you read a lot [about] on the news, but you can’t appreciate it until you’ve been there,” says Amy. She mentions how people in the UK can feel a world away from the crisis, both geographically and socially, but in fact it’s far closer to home than most people realise. Monique also thinks it’s specifically important for Cambridge students to do field work: “My experience of Cambridge is that people like to have theoretical debates about pressing social issues, and what some of us do is forget about the practicality of the issues in everyday life. Debates like these aren’t just for our own academic pleasure.”


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In their Cambridge lives, both Monique and Sakshi are second-year law students. Going to Calais, they said, has made them re-evaluate what they want to achieve by becoming lawyers: “There are so many opportunities to go into the world of commercial law that we’re often blinded into forgetting that there are other ways of using our degrees that aren’t just for money,” Monique says. Sakshi also mirrored this response. She is looking to be “more hands on” with her future work as a lawyer as she’s looking into public law and managing immigration cases.

As she was outside, Sakshi mentioned how she noticed a small number of refugees walking on a hill with huge bags. Her first thought was “I wonder how long they’ve been walking for.” She explains that this is the human aspect of the issue that isn’t covered by the media; it’s something you have to experience yourself. Field work gives you a really good way of engaging with the issue in a way that doesn’t overwhelm, claims Amy. She also jokes that it also made her very grateful for the central heating at Clare.

Concluding our discussion, Amy, Sakshi and Monique tell me that they thoroughly enjoyed their trip to volunteer. They joke that it was a “good break from our supo work” and how nice it was to escape the Cambridge bubble. To do some work that had a palpable and meaningful impact on the real lives of refugees, they note, was extremely rewarding.

Cambridge Freedom from Torture have a number of fundraising events over the course of the term, including collaborating with CamCRAG to go on more convoys to Calais in the future. Since their inception in Michaelmas 2022, they’ve raised over £1400 to help survivors of torture and refugees.