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Drifting Sand


The Thursday group in the Grande–Synthe camp in Dunkerque was full of people – adults and children – but still the new formation of the space allowed for gaps. Different zoning of the space worked very well; what emerged was a domestic and familiar environment, an area where children played, men sat and wrote calligraphy or played cards, and women crocheted. This was emphasized when we started knitting – when children calmed down, just wanting to watch us, seemingly contented in following the rhythm of our stitches.

Children were able to have more focused attention. We marvelled at a young boy’s ability to concentrate, so focused on his drawings. These seemed to reflect both empty spaces as well as full ones, these images reminding us of maps. Perhaps he is trying to make sense of where he now finds home?

This theme felt pertinent – people not knowing exactly where they are – and by proxy, where they relate to. The same tablecloth map used in the Calais camp is a point of reference but is used in a different way in Dunkerque. The journey to France is less focused upon. People are looking for their country of origin and their home town. They identify Kurdistan, finding the boundaries, unable to believe that they are no longer there.

There was a different sense of loss with the Calais residents, with more discussion about the trauma of the journey, and the loss of family. This loss felt tangibly different in the Dunkerque camp with a story told of gaps in time –“I lost two years in Germany”, “I lost a year here”, “I lost two years there”.

Our thoughts are still frequently with the residents in the Calais camp, dwelling on the similarities and differences of the spaces and people. We are still transitioning between these two places, with very different environments and communities. Our minds drift back to Calais, and question whether there is a sense of continuum of the work that we began there, or just a continuum of the loss of people’s homes.

A man who helped us to unload the car saw our materials – a basket of embroidery threads – and became intrigued by what we were offering in the space. He joined us for the whole afternoon, creating a frame for his embroidery, drawing a scene and quietly immersed in his stitching.

Puppets and peg dolls were made, moving the plasticine into a newer form this week, small figures and animals were personified and came to life in role-play around the room. Children delighted in showing off their creatures to the many adults in the space.

The space was full with equal amounts of children and adults, with family units coming in fragmented ways. Various members of a family came in throughout the afternoon and used the space differently. There was a sense of familiarity in our presence as trust and relationships are beginning to be forged. Staff from the Médecins du Monde team were very engaged in the work alongside us, which supports a healthy and nourishing space for emotional wellbeing.

Early on Friday morning we briefly walked on the beach in Dunkerque before returning to the camp. On the beach, piles of sand were randomly formed drifting on the strong wind. This felt a poignant metaphor for the movement of refugees around Europe.

We walked around the camp and met with the staff and users of the Children’s Centre and the Women’s Centre. The camp itself, although having benefits like better drainage and more solid structures, feels desolate and isolated, somehow lost or forgotten in an in-between space. A chill harsh wind blows through between the shelters, with pockets of children playing in a sea of gravel, making it hard to imagine it being a place to grow and thrive.

We noticed the empty spaces between the shelters. We keep thinking about all the people we know and worked alongside in the Calais camp, wondering where they are or where they have been placed. Where are the spaces they have found to inhabit?

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