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Calais October 6-9, 2021

We returned to Calais for the first time this year due to quarantine restrictions finally being lifted. Over three days we visited an Eritrean camp, joined a group delivered by the Refugee Women’s Centre and held two sessions in the Secours Catholique day centre.

Juliette, who runs the latter, told us that last week was the worst in her experience due to the death of a 16 year old boy from Sudan, particularly brutal police evictions and for many, no access to food for two days.

Over the three days we observed the following: the environment in Calais feels more hostile than ever, with more fences, barriers, road blocks and reduced public space. The area near the old Jungle camp is no longer accessible. Evidence of recent evictions elsewhere was evident. We were also aware that there are communities of people who are afraid to leave where they are, for fear of further evictions.

At the Secours Catholique day centre we were deeply impressed and moved by the large, organised team, each member appointed to a designated task - washing and toilet facilities, hairdressing, strict rules about mask wearing, clothes mending, phone charging, tea, coffee.

On Wednesday afternoon numbers reached 687 people.

In the absence of a sense of how to set up crisis support activities in face of so many people we had been asked to return and set up The Community Table.

On Wednesday afternoon we were shocked to see men literally running to get a place at a table to charge their phone. They had come from as far as Sudan, Eritrea, Mali, The Gambia and Syria. There were many men from Afghanistan. Around The Community Table some people told us they were hungry. We saw a much larger number of boys than previously - many as young as 14 or 15.

For four hours on Wednesday and Friday the table was fully occupied with a similar sense of urgency to the period following the closure of the Jungle in 2016. When chairs were taken away to other tables, men stood and carried on drawing, building, talking. A wide range of feelings were played out around the table with tension and anger mixed in with relief and sadness.

There were many fleeting but poignant moments. Many young men were enchanted by the mechanics and instant print of the typewriters. Mostly they wanted to simply type their name. More than one wanted to hear the typed words ‘I love you’ spoken out loud.

Yesterday, behind our table were protest posters being made in response to the young man’s death whose funeral had been beautifully marked in the centre the previous afternoon. We joined several hundred men and local people on an evening march that took in a large circuit of the town, for once calmly protected by local police.

Bobby Lloyd, Miriam Usiskin

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