It’s not that Zainab was unaware of the problems faced by refugees in Europe. As a child she had been a refugee herself. Since then she has had a particular interest in humanitarian work, and felt passionately about assisting in the European migration crisis. However, she was not sure how she could help. It was only when she watched the BBC’s Exodus documentary that she became aware of Safe Passage’s work; she went straight to our website and registered to volunteer.
Zainab speaks Sudanese Arabic, so we knew we could use her help in Calais, where there was a large Sudanese population. After her training with Safe Passage, Zainab went out to Calais just before the “jungle” was demolished. She was immensely helpful to us in our work with unaccompanied minors; she interpreted at meetings with social workers, lawyers and staff in the ‘jungle’, and travelled with the children during their transfers from France to the UK.
She says: “It was amazing and humbling to be part of something so important; before I went to Calais I did not know how effective we could be, but I realised that without Safe Passage’s interpreters the children would have been terrified, and in real danger of running away, as they would not have understood what was happening in those final chaotic weeks in Calais.
“There was one boy in Calais who I particularly remember. He was so quiet. We kept asking him if there was anything he wanted, he kept refusing anything, but eventually he told us that he would like a pomegranate as they used to grow in his village. We were able to get him one, and the smile on his face was amazing.
“It was a huge privilege and a responsibility to be on the coaches which took the children from France to the UK. Many of the children were very scared, but because we were there with them, they knew that they had someone in their corner. I remember going to Lunar House myself when I arrived in the UK, but when I came there was not so much attention. There were so many photographers, the children did not know what kind of reception they would get. However, when they saw the Citizens UK welcome party, it was the first time many had cracked a smile. Those people holding up messages of welcome, waving and cheering, made more of a difference than they could possibly have imagined.”