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Dunkirk and Calais, France, January 10-11, 2024

Northern France is experiencing the same cold snap as in southern England, but with biting cold winds alongside bright blue skies.

On Wednesday, we continued our collaboration with Médecins du Monde and its impressive team. The small cluster of vans parked up next to a busy road and railway line, close to two living sites on the outskirts of Dunkirk.

Responding to the physical space in this desolate landscape, we laid our large world map on the ground, tethered down against the sharp wind with blocks of ice from the nearby frozen water station.

Young men from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Sudan stopped around the map, after collecting a ticket for the mobile clinic. We moved between inside and outside, between the map, an outdoor table and the inside of the psychosocial activities van. Around plastic containers of beads, a small group of men from Afghanistan talked about mothers, war, loss, threading beads for themselves with hearts and their names.

Today was bright and very cold on the beach and across the town of Calais. In the absence of the large day centre which was closed today, we made our way to The Wash, a brilliant project run by Collective Aid in which a ticketed system supports the washing and drying of clothes alongside an opportunity to rest, drink tea and coffee, read, chat, play games, and receive legal advice.

In this context we tested out a small table, mostly joined by young men from Sudan and South Sudan. Imagination was a word picked up by one man, thought about and explored across the table, alongside other moments of ordinary connections about politics, college and clean clothes.

In both of these harsh settings the order allows for people to experience some dignity; leaving us reflecting on the different approaches to care in this border context, and the immense value of these small pockets of structure.

Words by Miriam Usiskin, Bobby Lloyd, Johannes Maertens and Jonny Craig.

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