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Ce n'est pas normale / It is not normal

Calais - February 20-21, 2020

CONTEXT The storms of the past fortnight witnessed in the UK were also experienced in northern France, with high winds and driving rain perpetuating a cycle of distress. People are unable to get dry, with reports of 5 or 6 people sleeping in a 3 person tent in an effort to keep warm. The smell of burning plastic and damp clothes is everywhere, while long undignified queues for limited showers making the environment still less hospitable.

During the storm last week the emergency shelter was opened for three nights, offering a covered space to sleep for the first time this winter. Expulsions continue every two or three days with continued police brutality. There are many people living under the radar in squats, trying to be invisible. Medicines du Monde and the Refugee Youth Service are encouraging the growing number of unaccompanied minors to seek shelter in hostels.

We were joined this week by photographer Farhad Berahman who had brought his Afghan Box Camera with him to Calais last August.

MOBILE CLINIC In driving rain and winds of around 50 mph, the large medical team, along with ourselves, set up the gazebo against a corner of the petrol station on the road where people camp on the edge of town. We strapped the large world map to the fence to act as a wind barrier - a physical shelter - before young men, soaked through from the rain, started to arrive to see the doctor or line up for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

Farhad accompanied doctors on a walkabout to the Iranian area, where he was shocked to meet people suffering from flu, colds, skin conditions and injuries: conditions to do with poverty and homelessness, exacerbated by deep mud and standing water.

Once again the site was full of contradictions: we sat with several men who were in distress, and chatted with a young man who spoke ten languages. We were shouted at by the proprietor of the petrol station who insisted ‘This is Not Normal’ and threatened to report the medical team to the authorities; but as the mobile clinic was packing up to leave a local man arrived with a large tent as a donation.

DAY CENTRE The large room slowly filled to capacity with at least 300 people in the main space, necessitating the use of an adjacent room as overflow. We had prepared The Community Table with manual typewriters, bricks, black and white photographs and watercolours, and were joined across the afternoon by young and older men from Egypt, Syria, Bedoon in Kuwait, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, Iran, and Guinea.

We could have made use of a table twice as large with many staying with intense focus, and friends or others dropping by briefly. A few men sat at the table anxious, preoccupied, exhausted. Farhad led the hand colouring of photographs, the watercolours offering brief periods of meditative absorption.

There were a number of familiar faces. People wanted to build, or type messages to loved ones, or to the world. Several told us that they intend to try to reach the UK by small boat as this is their only option. This is not normal.

Bobby Lloyd, Miriam Nabarro, Farhad Berahman

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