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Dunkirk & Calais, August 9-10, 2023

It will take time to process our experiences over the past two days. With the calm, warm weather we watched huge numbers of people on the move including families with small children, all walking in haste towards the Channel, something in our 8 years working in northern France we have never before witnessed.

We spent Wednesday in Dunkirk with Medecin du monde france With their ambulance and psychosocial activities van parked in-between a railway line and road, we gradually found an orientation with our new map held up with magnets placed on the side of the van, and the world map placed on the ground by the tracks. In this in-between space, two children made small plasticine objects, a birthday cake with candles on a table, a bowl of fruit, a dog on a lead with a water bowl and bone. In those few small moments the space became one where play and connection were possible. Mostly young men and teenagers stopped to look at both the map on the van and on the ground, routes were marked out with fingers and small cars, and journeys across Europe recounted…

Today in Calais at the L'accueil de jour de Calais we heard stories about past, present and future. A stop-frame animation was made about travelling across Africa, named ‘Move to Hollywood’. A man whose phone, money and hearing aid had been taken from him still managed to care and look out for others. Someone at the table made a film with the message: ‘if you imagine something is going to be easier it will be, but if you imagine it’s going to be difficult it will be‘. At the table we tried to help imagine both of these positions and lots of others in-between.

We know that at least 600 people have crossed in small boats to the UK since yesterday. Part of our difficulty processing the last few days is the new reality of the Illegal Migration Act and the implications it will have on people who are still desperate enough to continue to take that risk.

Words by Miriam Usiskin, Bobby Lloyd, Johannes Maertens & Tony Gammidge.

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