Protest and performance

Calais

There is the possibility that the Calais refugee camp will be dispersed and demolished early next week although the date has not yet been set by the French state, and the eviction could take place early the following week, or later still.

The anticipation and yet lack of clarity was expressed in a range of ways by those we came into contact with over the two days, in amongst which was the feeling of the calm before the storm and the need for perspective.

On Thursday we witnessed a dignified, peaceful but defiant demonstration on the part of a hundred or so Sudanese men, a protest against the atrocities being committed in their country, letting the world know their right to asylum.

In the CAMIE youth area we worked with 30 unaccompanied minors. There was good news with two young teenagers coming into the space to announce that they have gained legal passage to the UK, to be reunited with family under the Dubs agreement.

Throughout the afternoon other boys sat with us calmly to draw, while some seemed angry and anxious. Two boys turned to performance to communicate their frustration and find some meaning in their predicament. One 14 year old set himself up as Director of the Asylum Office – taking fingerprints from both workers and residents around the youth area, holding an ink-pad and pen, doling out a pass to one of us for the UK, withholding it from another – ‘you must stay in France, come back next week!’ Another young man acted out the fate of those persecuted and displaced by other wars, and then welcomed in – but he stressed that this isn’t happening here, in this place, at this time.

On Friday, against the backdrop of a mounting armed police presence and busy NGO activity, we spent the afternoon reaching out across the camp, meeting people we know, reconnecting in our goodbyes and engaging in new conversations. On our walk we met some who seem to have accessed the information they need while others are struggling within the confusion.

Evident also was a renewed flourishing of the arts across the camp, so often the case at times of crisis – messages of hope, collective singing, communal cooking, impromptu exhibitions, new graffiti.

There was a different perspective when you climbed up the newly constructed Belfry Tower on top of the sand dune – people naturally want to get up high when something is about to happen. In France, and across continental Europe, many cities including Calais have a belfry tower, originally a watch tower to provide protection against hostile attack.

In the camp over the past week an international group of students have erected a flag-topped tower made from wood to mark the Calais camp as a mini society, a city in its own right with positive complexity, and networks across the world.

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