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'I can't sit and do nothing' - Tyrone lorry driver on Calais mercy mission

By Suzanne Breen

Published 04/09/2015

John Hurson is behind the ‘Tyrone to Calais’ campaign
John Hurson is behind the ‘Tyrone to Calais’ campaign

A big-hearted lorry driver is dipping into his own pocket to help refugees fleeing war-torn countries.

Dungannon man John Hurson is filling up his truck with hundreds of warm blankets and quilts to bring to refugees at Calais next week.

He is not asking for donations and is funding the trip himself.

"It's no big deal, it's the least I can do. I can't sit and do nothing as thousands of people are fleeing the most horrendous situations. Calais is just a day's drive away.

"I watch my own nephews and nieces running around kicking a football and playing with their toys, having a normal childhood, and then I look at what the refugee children are going through.

"They have grown up seeing nothing but war. For youngsters, life should be full of fun and enjoyment, but their lives are full of death and destruction. Survival is the best they can hope for and I want to do my bit to make their survival a wee bit easier."

John said the photographs of the dead body of three-year-old Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, had horrified him. "Images like that stir our conscience deeply. The one of young Aylan shook me to the core. Our history is littered with coffin ships full of Irish people leaving for better places and many of us perished on the journey too.

"Indeed, there was a ship called The Syria full of Irish people which sailed from Liverpool in 1847. Just two weeks after it set sail, 900 passengers were dead. We as a people know about the desperation that causes families to risk everything on the high seas.

"More than 100,000 Irish men, women and children sailed to Canada in 1847. One in five of them died from disease and malnutrition on the way. Our story was once the very same as that of the Middle-Easterns and Africans now desperately trying to come here."

John accused Western governments of indifference to the suffering of refugees but said ordinary citizens were far more compassionate. "Our governments have started or funded wars that are destroying and destabilising these countries. And then - rather than helping the innocent men, women and children caught up in these conflicts - our leaders respond with razor wire and sniffer dogs to lock them out and prevent them reaching safety.

"But ordinary people have far more humanity than their politicians and that is why some of us who are watching these heartbreaking scenes are trying to do something to help."

It will not be John's first journey taking aid to those affected by conflict. In 2009 and 2010, he drove his lorry from Tyrone to Gaza three times bringing supplies to Palestinians in need.

"I brought blankets, clothes and building equipment, but mainly medical aid - cancer-treating drugs, dental equipment and medicines," he said.

"It's not just the practical help that's appreciated in times like this, though. The act of solidarity is important too," he added. "People in these desperate situations need to know that the world isn't just looking on at their suffering. They need to know that people enjoying better lives see them not as an inconvenience but as our brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings deserving of help."

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