(IM) POSSIBLE AND POTENTIAL CALAIS, JUNE 23-24, 2017
The day began with a meeting with Médecins du Monde who described the tension in Calais, the backdrop to this week a cacophony of ingredients. These include the terrible accidental death of a driver caused by roadblocks, the outcome of the tribunal given on Monday which will decide if there can be proper access for refugees to food and water and showers. In addition to this, Sunday is the end of Ramadan. There have been increased reports of tensions throughout the town and more violations from the police.
Meanwhile we observed that Calais was full of posters, public art sculptures and images of London buses, red phone boxes, a willow model of Tower Bridge and beefeaters. This ironic choice of theme for celebrating summer seemed random and almost cruel. The images an apparent reminder of the tantalizingly nearness of the UK, it seemed insensitive and provocative.
The day centre was packed full of people and the air was filled with this palpable tension as well as disturbance. Tired sleep deprived men, sat saying they were hungry, it felt edgy and volatile. One man was without shoes saying the Police had taken them. Given all of this though people sat with us around the table.
A number of people we met had been living in the UK and been forced out. Some had lived in Denmark, Spain and the Czech republic. The tenacity and endurance needed to be in a constant state not knowing is remarkable. We were once again amazed with the ability people had to still to have a semblance of politeness, a capacity to engage with the art materials, and still show curiosity of us and one another, but they do. It takes resilience to sit with uncertainty, flooded with negativity, and within this state of being, it is profound that people can sit and do something.
Houses were built and drawings were drawn. Some built strong houses, while some were more vulnerable. We were reminded of the three little pigs, who was the big bad wolf going to blow the house down? There was lots of playing out of the different roles. Sometimes being the pig with the wobbly unstable house, sometimes building a strong enough house with the help of the group, at other moments, being the wolf who is threatening attack.
At five when the centre closed refugees found it difficult to leave, as did we. We pondered on what a very difficult thing it is to sit with not knowing what may happen? Where or if you may catch some much needed sleep? – When and how you might next eat? If you can get to the UK what you may face there?
The day was cooler and the famous Calais winds were out in full force. We met with our other partners from the day centre, and they emphasised the terrible governmental bullying taking place. Reports highlighted more restrictions and less services, refugees being forced into positions where they have to compete for the scant resources available.
However amongst the distressing news it was heart warming to hear the resilience of workers who are struggling to find solutions in impossible situations. They doggedly advocate for the rights of those we work with. They struggle to resolve reduced or denied hospital access, fighting for the urgent respite needed for some of the most vulnerable. There is a sense that refugees are being forced into the cracks whilst trying to hold onto what seems an impossible hope.
When we arrived at the day centre the feeling had again shifted, still packed, there was a resigned air of forced calm though exhaustion, more young men were present.
It was acknowledged by everyone that there had been tensions in the week, and consideration was given as a group about how to work together to relieve these. Questions were asked about how the group is going to celebrate Eid together early next week, and a plan formulated on who would cook for everyone and who would be providing the food. Around the table construction of buildings resumed, there was careful balancing of roof tiles and an eye for detail.
The day ended with a really positive group in the safe house. The house was full up with increasingly young unaccompanied minors. The group were impressively resilient building houses and then rebuilding houses that were accidentally knocked over. A carefully considered drawing which had begun last week was finished. There was limited knowledge of English but this did not matter, the group worked carefully together, quiet but immersed in their art making. Slowly houses emerged as well as an impressive church, backdrops were drawn and collaborated on, the group were animated and inspired, supporting each other to create scenes around their houses, providing lighting and photographic expertise.
We left the safe house with the theme of last few days echoing, the possibilities and potential these young men have and impossibility of their situation, the incredible admiration we have for them and their ability to cope and sit with the uncertainty of their destiny.