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Frontier Town Optics

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

CONTEXT This was our first trip back in 2020 and also the first return to Northern France with the new British Government in power. With a strong majority, one of the first acts of the new government has been to reject Amendment 4 of Clause 37 of the Withdrawal Bill which would have protected the rights of child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit. With Brexit now a surety this has dangerous implications on the ground in this frontier town of Calais.

Tuesday January 7th was Orthodox Christmas and a celebration meal was prepared for 200 members of the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities in Calais. 50 attended a special church service.

THURSDAY We arrived to our regular coffee shop and were met by a huge demonstration outside, with loud bangs, sirens and people marching as part of a national protest against the French government changes to pension schemes, evidencing tensions on either side of the border and different ways of expressing these.

The wet windy weather, and painful human rights abuses of refugees trying to get to the UK, continues. Police presence forces refugees to move their tents to the roadside and out of the clumps off trees that themselves offer only precarious shelter. Tents therefore line the edge of the busy road. The ritual arrival of the police and continuous façade of the removal of tents and retrieval of tents goes on like a game of cat and mouse or cowboys and Indians.

New costly fences are also being erected around the area where people camp, both hemming in and blocking out those attempting to find a place to rest for even a brief time.

MOBILE CLINIC We met with our partners Médecins du Monde before going out to the field, presenting a powerpoint of images and thoughts of our work alongside their service over the past 4 and a half years, in which large maps have often played a part. This was helpful in bringing our two teams together for the afternoon session in a shared effort to erect a shelter and buffer from the wet winds around the gazebo using our three large maps.

A number of people waited for medical attention, and the maps provided not only shelter but distraction and lively discussion. A new flag card game added an additional dimension with a group of young men joining in guessing which flag design belongs to which country as well as capital cities and population sizes.

The knowledge base was huge with some having an extensive understanding of countries and populations. It was amazing what can be learnt in a small shelter on the edge of northern France. A couple of young men wondered if there should be a specially designed jungle flag?

FRIDAY SECOURS CATHOLIQUE Our new art therapy trainee from Paris, Kate France, arrived to join the team. The day centre was full, the map table cloth provided a solid base and foundation for a number of buildings.

Beautiful creations were made and viewed through the magnifiers, creating almost magical illusions with scale and light being played with. The optics provided a different way of looking, seeing and relooking at objects on the table. Looking through the magnifiers encourages active participation while linking makers and viewers in a unique way. A number of people sat at the table after making, staying and chatting, looking for companionship.

The day centre continues to provide simple acts of human kindness - a cup of tea, a place for brief rest, a place to charge a phone, but it is the care in which this is delivered which continues to impress, in a frontier town where the mayors office and border politics deliberately aim to ensure a hostile environment for refugees.

Miriam Usiskin, Bobby Lloyd & Kate France

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