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Journeys between the outposts – so close and so far

The team worked together between two distinct spaces clearly standing out in the stripped back landscape of the southern part of the Calais camp.

On Thursday the space was the Medecins du Monde psychosocial tent, now surrounded on three sides by bulldozed terrain, with a mosque to the left and an African school to the right, otherwise adrift in a landscape of rubble-filled earth and sand.

This was the day after a particularly difficult clash with police when a lot of CS gas was thrown at residents and this continued into the morning with one young man coming into the MDM tent asking us: “why is it like this? I’m here on my own without family and can’t walk into town without having gas sprayed in my face.” His sense of despair and hopelessness was a theme that resonated throughout the day, in spite of moments of poignancy. A young Bedoon from Kuwait, who has returned many times to work with us, described how he speaks to his mother on What’s App every day. She’s still in Kuwait with his five sisters while 3 brothers are in Belgium and one in Australia. He drew an image of himself and his mother saying goodbye, both weeping. He himself cannot get to the UK.

A group of high energy Afghani teenagers entered the space and quickly calmed down, a ten year old (there with his older brother) stepping away from the group to make a beautiful peg doll with Naomi.

A man in his twenties from Sudan spent the day with us, practicing his basic English with the use of an exercise book, and trying to refine over and over: “today I am here; tomorrow I am there; how are you? I am fine. We are close, you are so far.”

On Friday we worked across the cleared landscape, both inside and outside the Hummingbird Project space. The day was warm with blue skies; there was a lot more activity in the ‘wasteland’ including a gardener planting a potted garden outside the space and a group of clowns and trapeze artists putting on a show, starting with a gun filled with bubbles. The latter drew some people out of curiosity, as did the placing by ourselves of a large map of north Africa, Europe and the Middle East onto the outside of the shelter.

We worked with 50-60 teenage boys and men. Inside, the space was busy all day with many drawings of flowers and birds and touching interactions between people. We listened to individual’s worries and also resolutions. One young man from Afghanistan has decided to claim asylum in France as he and his brother have been taken in by a foster family. He made a refined and beautiful peacock from plasticine.

Onto the large map on the outside of the building numerous journeys were marked across the day in black or red pen, each journey unique and many accompanied by conversation and description of details along the route. One boy exclaimed that he had taken only 10 days to make his way to Calais where he has now been for 5 months; a Sudanese man paused the pen on Libya, telling us he had been imprisoned there for a year, in Benghazi. Friends gathered to discuss the different points at which they had crossed from Turkey to Greece or which route they had taken up through Europe. There was a lot of anger expressed at the impossibly close distance between France and the UK.

At the end of the afternoon a few of the most vulnerable young men helped us to clear up and pack up, wanting us close, not too far, not wanting us to leave the camp to head up and across to London.

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