Calais, March 7-8, 2019
CONTEXT Our work took place this week against the ongoing backdrop of high winds, new fences and concrete walls, daily dismantling of small camps and huge Brexit unknowns.
There was discussion at the Secours Catholique team meeting about the need to guard against normalising the routine of police expulsions and violence; to observe, witness and listen; be patient; identify needs and orientate people to the right services wherever possible.
On our arrival there were queues of stationary lorries lined up to the Channel tunnel as French customs officers protested against Brexit’s potential impact.
On Friday, tragic news came through that a teenager had died in the back of a lorry that morning in an effort to reach the UK – the first official death on the border this year. One hundred refugees stormed the port earlier in the week to try to reach the ferries; ten have since gone unaccounted for. Desperation is very high.
THURSDAY DAY CENTRE The day centre filled slowly and was quieter than usual with reports of people being nervous about leaving their tents and belongings. We reintroduced the Connect network game from two weeks earlier, and decided to use it across the two days. It acted at the table to allow for brief interactions and conversation as well as collective problem solving.
DISTRIBUTION The winds picked up to around 56 miles per hour. We tried to put the map up on the side of the Medecins du Monde ambulance but the tape wouldn’t hold. We next tried to harness the direction of the wind to get the map to stick to the nearby fence but it was whipped up and thrown back, upside down.
Attempts to inhabit the space using the map were challenged by the weather. A camaraderie however emerged between the community of people gathering around the ambulance waiting to see the doctor, and aided by the network game which involved rescuing the cards that became untethered.
The afternoon ended back at the Day Centre which acted to tether us and affirmed the grounding nature that so many people experience in this space.
FRIDAY SECOURS CATHOLIQUE TEAM MEETING The associations are expressing increasing concern about the mental health needs of many of the people here and about the lack of appropriate services, with those working on the ground feeling out of their depth about the levels of despair and depression.
However, fortnightly meetings with refugees and associations are now taking place. The meetings are leading to a “manifestation” from a small group of refugees denouncing state actions and demanding rights such as access to shelter.
SAFE HOUSE Following two hours of art making in the Day Centre, we spent the last part of the day in the Safe House where 30 young refugees had stayed the previous night. Talk has been of fatigue in the house community due to such a high turnover of new faces. Although difficult to connect the pathways of the network game, philosophical adaptations were managed. In amongst all the layers of complexity, there was also the potentiality of something new, with fresh plans hatched for a prayer bus.