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Navigating politics and dangerous roads

CALAIS – November 2-3, 2017

CONTEXT At our regular meetings with Medecins du Monde and Secours Catholique we shared sets of newly printed postcards of images from our work in Calais. We in turn received updates on the current situation.

More police violence last week was noted in the days leading up to the French November 1st annual winter Truce that states that it is illegal to evict people from this date until March 1st.

These violent exclusions from the centre of town have included confiscation of shoes and money and direct destruction of phones in front of individuals; gassing of food, clothes, bedding, water and materials continues to be commonplace. It was noted that the life length of a sleeping bag is around 6 days before it is destroyed by the police.

Since the anniversary of the destruction of the camp, and the November 1st ruling, there has also been an increase in negative press and local vigilante activity.

The French teams do their best to provide services but both spoke about the complexity of adequately supporting refugees in the ongoing situation as Winter approaches. More Syrians and some Palestinians are arriving, while families appear for support and then disappear, workers left not knowing if they are safe. Cold makes people frightened and make desperate decisions.

The importance of choice for the women and the men at the distribution was discussed as giving back some dignity; as well as acknowledgment that it is often not possible to give a solution but it is possible to try to be authentic as best you can.

HOSTEL At the homeless hostel we noticed a sharp increase in numbers of both local and refugee men since last week. At our weekly session with our friend we looked together at postcards and thought about the maze of bureaucracy and not being able to find a way through, alongside the different driving styles in different countries and how we have to learn to navigate our way across them both and in different ways so as to survive intact.

DISTRIBUTION Several hundred people gathered at the distribution area across the afternoon with a clear blue sky and strong autumnal sun. The Red Cross; Medecins du Monde doctors, nurses and psychologist; food, clothing, youth service, toilets were also present, groups gathering, football played on the tarmac road.

We placed the map as usual on the outside of the MdM ambulance along with two small tables that held postcards, plasticine and drawing materials. Around fifty or so individuals joined us, many in small groups, often with friends, and staying for a while for conversation around the map and art-making. Apart from one girl, they were all male aged from 13, mostly teenagers.

Much of the conversation was of a political nature; one of the plasticine scenes made collectively around one of the tables had a menacing quality. One poorly dressed and frazzled 13 year old boy told us, accompanied by actions, how he is regularly awoken, teargassed and chased by the police, and how that morning they had kicked him violently in the shin and he was now waiting to see the doctor.

We observed networks of care for certain individuals we have ourselves been concerned about over the past few weeks, as well as strong friendships gained through dangerous shared journeys across continents or more recently in this so often hostile place. There appeared to be more mixing amongst the different ethnic communities, as commented upon by the refugees themselves. We left the area as the sun went down and the sharp cold air nipped in.


SAFE HOUSE The calm routines of boys making themselves lunch, clothes washing and life in this community household were as usual a warm welcome and these activities continued across the three hours as we sat around the table with a small group of members of the household.

Political discussion and experimental building left us wondering, how do you survive and flourish from a corrupt system back home and in a world where things have to be tried again and again in different and often dangerous ways to get to where you want or need to be?

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