CALAIS UPDATE – MARCH 3-4
INHABITING NEW SAFE SPACES AMIDST SHIFTING SANDS
This week the team was Bobby Lloyd, Anna Kalin and Naomi Press with trustee Luke Upchurch and associate member from ArtWorksforAid’s Nina Tara.
THURSDAY We worked on Thursday with Medecins du Monde in their recently built psychosocial space in the south of the camp, welcoming both new faces and regulars. Around us, the bulldozing of the southern area was visible, methodical and relentless, with the clearance being made by the prefecture’s team supported by several hundred CRS police in full riot gear.
Nina spoke in Urdu with an Afghani teenager who walked round and round the tent space for several hours before settling to a series of word pieces made up of different languages which seemed to ground him.
A teenager whom we have worked on numerous occasions spent the day with us and was delighted to see Naomi whom he realised he had first met in the camp nine months ago.
Two cartographers, in Calais for Le Monde, were interested to hear that we have been supporting residents to map their journeys. They are keen to collaborate with us to extend the mapping to journeys made within a 30km radius of the camp, where so many journeys are aborted and rerouted, in and out, in starlike constellations.
On outreach into the camp we discovered newly built shelters to the north that seem to be stretching further towards the sea; meeting people on route, we all picked up on the huge sense of despair, hopelessness and exhaustion across the camp.
Our headaches caused by the acrid smoke from the burning shelters and plastic, and the nearby chemical factory were only cleared once we got up onto the vast sandy beach. There, a small line of men standing at the sea’s edge, looked over towards the UK. We were greeted on the beach by a middle aged man who offered us his evening meal. He said he is Bedoon from Kuwait where is he not wanted, and nor is he wanted here. He seemed utterly despairing.
FRIDAY The bulldozing on Thursday had apparently been slowed down due to the hunger strike protest by a number of Iranian refugees. This was taking place in a shelter directly opposite The Hummingbird Project’s Safe Space where we were working in collaboration with MSF. The World’s press was gathered and awaiting an appearance by the men before dispersing at around midday.
Throughout the day, several men and teenagers engaged with us at the table in quiet, focused artmaking and conversation, while a number of others took ArtworksforAid art packs or stood around with us and the MSF team drinking tea and coffee.
We visited the nearby Baloo’s Youth Centre with an MSF Doctor when asked to attend to a unwell boy who was afraid to leave the safety of this space for unaccompanied minors.
A 13 year old Afghani boy returned with us to try art making; he said that he is living in a caravan further into the camp with his 12 year old brother; the whereabouts of their parents are unclear but they had both been making Mothers Day cards which they had photographed on his phone to send on Sunday to their Aunt in the UK who would forward them to their mother in Afghanistan.
His optimism and ability to hold onto an imaginative capacity and a thirst for learning languages was inspiring – having four French lessons each day and wanting very much to learn Welsh as he’d learnt English from Welsh volunteers – which explained his Welsh accent.
For the past four weeks we’ve worked with a Kurdish Iranian goldsmith who visited today and used the same technique to make a heart stencil that he had used with us before. We felt this was his way to communicate with us – as we were unable to recognise him due to his mouth being covered in a mask. He is one of the men on hunger strike in the Information Centre a few steps away.
At 4.00pm we packed up to leave, needing to take a route through an already bulldozed and charred area, as a number of shelters had been lined up in the through road in an attempt to stop the police advancing forwards. Despite these efforts, it is unclear how long the southern area of the camp will survive.