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Oxford2Calais: An Interview with Alathea Osbourne

Could you explain how it all came about? Was it a group of you who came together? Did you know each other before? What sparked it? Or has it been  around for ages but is now gaining more attention?

The original thing came together incredibly randomly in some ways. I was chatting with a couple of friends from the college about the refugee crisis and what we could do etc. and we thought that considering I had a car maybe we could just drive across to Calais for a weekend, this then totally snowballed!

What kind of things have you been doing? And how does this fit amongst other activities going on at Oxford?

Our initial trip turned into an effort with donation boxes across 16 of the universities colleges and various non-university people hearing about it and donating things. We ended up hiring and driving out two large vans full of supplies and raising over £3300 (which was all donations as the trips were entirely self-funded). Myself and my friend Jack were the main organisers behind this though so many people have helped in various ways.

We were then contacted over the Christmas break by a medic who is studying herewondering if we could coordinate an effort between us to get linguists (both Jack and I have studied arabic and spent time in the Middle East) and medics to work together on a volunteer trip. Once again this has rather exploded and we are heading out there a week today with a team of 46 volunteers (having had over a 100 apply but we just didn’t have the capacity and time organise that many annoyingly) which includes linguists,  medics, lawyers,legal specialists and general volunteers.

Why do you think universities are particularly well placed to offer support to asylum seekers and refugees? Is there something special about the university environment which makes it a good “vehicle” for welcome?

Our work in Oxford has included primarily raising awareness and funds, coordinating donation drives of physical donations and reaching out to various networks. At the moment it is not a university organised thing as such, it just happens to be that we being at Oxford provides us with amazing links and people around who are keen to help.

There seems to be a bigger movement growing recently in Oxford and attempts to build a platform from which students wanting to help/work with/support etc refugees can share and gain information. I know that other universities like SOAS have a regular volunteer trips to Calais every month which would be incredible to make happen if we could get the infrastructure in place.

I think the main thing about universities is that you students are an amazing potential work force and from my experience can be incredibly empathetic and energetic if given just the slightest facilitation!

Oxford2Calais have been featured on the BBC news which can be found here.