Making and meeting on the edge

DUNKERQUE REFUGEE CAMP & CALAIS

Across the two days we worked with three different groups of people in northern France, each struggling on the edge of things – the precariousness of people’s lives exposed.

THURSDAY – DUNKERQUE

On entering the Dunkerque camp we encountered two very small girls crouching at either corner of their wooden shelter, creating on the structural supports exquisite small scenes out of gathered treasure, watched over by their father. This painfully beautiful and inspiring scene felt hugely symbolic.

The organisational structure of the camp has encouraged a certain passivity on the part of the residents for whom so many things are done to rather than alongside. There is also an ease with which one can sink into despondency in this place which can make it hard to engage with.

Such a culture is slowly changing within the Butterfly House itself with longer periods of focus and a settling into the space now arranged for adults in one part and children in the other. Medecins du Monde reported to us other encouraging moments of ownership from earlier in the week: recitations of poetry coming from and enjoyed by the group, and an impromptu beauty salon.

There is the weight of reality – it’s starting to get very cold at night and keeping energy for anything outside the necessary routines of living is a tall order. There are also a number of new arrivals, some children are dressed in dirty clothing and most have coughs and colds.

In the room around 40 people across generations used the space, many staying throughout the afternoon. Several individuals wanted to create something beautiful – a father working hard on his calligraphy, tough boys making bright, colourful wool mandalas to hang up in the family shelter, overcoming their frustrations and calming down through the repetition of the weaving action, having mastered the technique. A few children and adults took wool away for knitting and weaving. We felt we had managed to support children in valuing their work and in mirroring this for exhausted parents.

FRIDAY – CALAIS

During our weekly visit to the small group of Sudanese men still in the hospital we are beginning to realise the importance of bringing art making as well as images to look at together that resonate, alongside the discussion of legal processes and checking in. These are men who so deeply wish for agency back in their lives, in contrast to their stated feeling of Calais as a hostile and dangerous place.

This week we offered our first session at a safe house run by the Secours Catholique at their request and that of Medecins du Monde. A sense of agency in this community house has shifted the balance from being dependent upon, to doing things together and for each other in a way that was both moving to witness and be welcomed into. A group of vulnerable young adults from many countries, several of whom we already know from the Calais camp, joined around the dining room table to draw together, whilst we brought out our replenished postcard collection as a starting point.

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