CALAIS – SEPTEMBER 7-8, 2017
CONTEXT French police inspectors who have recently been in Calais investigating CRS police violence and harassment of refugees have taken seriously what they have heard and have asked for videos that document the violence and use of teargas while they build up their report. There was some hope in this situation but also concern from the various associations that this might not translate into any significant action.
We also heard of the distress experienced by volunteers who give out distribution one day and then witness the police clearing the site and destroying sleeping bags the next, knowing that stockrooms are empty. There was talk of ways to respond and resist, offering new perspective.
On our way home on Friday evening we learnt of new showers to be finally installed by the Prefecture, two months after the order of the Lille administrative court.
THURSDAY – DAY CENTRE Around the table on Thursday afternoon we were once again able to engage people in the here and now, helping to bring them out of their exhausted, often disconnected state. The physicality and immediacy of the bricks appeared to help people feel more grounded. We witnessed problem-solving and men helping each other lay roof tiles, for example, in a practical, mutually supportive way. There was also communication of difficult, hard-to-articulate things with one teenager building his house almost to completion and then, checking that this was okay, knocking it over and saying ‘that was a bomb!’
There were also opportunities within the calm space for more extended conversations. One Afghani man spoke at length about his brother who travelled alone to the UK aged ten. He explained that he now hopes to join his brother there, fifteen years later. During the conversation he phoned his brother on his mobile phone and asked one of us to chat with him, as if seeking confirmation that we are real and located in this place.
One Sudanese man who is claiming asylum in France sat for two hours building a family home and speaking about a range of things that were preoccupying him. He spoke of the loss for him of community since leaving home. He also shared that he has learnt to ride a bike which gives him freedom and he now wants to join a cycling club so as to cycle with others up hills and across the landscape.
FRIDAY At the morning Secours Catholique staff meeting our sense of a calmer atmosphere in the Day Centre was shared by the team who described individuals as politer and more helpful with more women and a wider range of individuals using the service.
There was discussion about a growing mutual respect they are gaining through their morning outreach to the places around town where refugees are surviving in challenging and shocking conditions and yet with such stoicism. One woman spoke about her difficulty imagining what happens to the women at night in such a hostile place, while by day relationships are beginning to be built.
Following the meeting we took the opportunity to walk along the flat landscape of the disused railway line that connects the town with the site of the distribution near to the old camp, a route regularly walked by refugees. It rained heavily and remnants of clothes littered the sidings. In this landscape it was hard to see what lay ahead and we longed for higher ground.
SAFE HOUSE The Safe House is full to capacity. While the rain continued to bucket down throughout the afternoon teenagers returned to the house soaking wet, one with streaming eyes from recent teargassing.
Meanwhile a group of boys were in the kitchen cooking a special meal for their sick friend. When ready they were driven to the hospital to take it to his bedside.
In this context one young household member joined us at the table. Building a small family home for four, he added a shower block and outside kitchen. Before finishing he made an outside table area with an awning saying with a smile that sometimes there will be many visitors.
As we left Calais we discussed the idea of bringing a hill to add contour and landscape to the table.