Reflections From Calais

Thomas Etheridge volunteered with the Art Refuge UK team on our series of 3 day residencies at the Secours Catholique day centre in Calais across late July and August.

“In June I came to Calais to volunteer with Art Refuge UK for the first time. I was deeply moved on that first day, travelling around the various places on the industrial fringes of Calais where the migrants are forced to wander. Learning about the violence this dehumanised group of people regularly experience took me weeks to process.

Later in the Summer I spent many hours in the Secours Catholique day centre – a safe space which provides refugees with a place to wash their clothes, cut each other’s hair, charge their phones and rest. It was here that I began to hear the stories of individuals and see the true effect of exhaustion on these young men.

We would arrive at the Secours Catholique day centre before it opened and set up a large table with carefully considered art materials. Once set up, the space became an open group which appealed to the refugees’ curiosity and allowed them to use skills which may have restored a sense of identity; one boy sat with us for three focused hours, sewing. One troubled young man built a copy of his own farm house using miniature bricks and spent the afternoon smiling and speaking animatedly.

In these sessions, many refugees were able to vIsually communicate and at times verbalise their experiences, often for the first time. Over the Summer, I have witnessed the restorative impact caused by the regular work of this committed group of therapists.

My time with Art Refuge UK was informed by my experience of working with unaccompanied minors at The Croydon Refugee Council. I had been working with teenage boys there who had safely managed to make the crossing from Calais to Dover; one was an Afghan boy who had used the art making spaces in the Calais Jungle. This gave me an awareness of the potential future which the refugees I met in Calais were striving for. In preparation for the Art Therapy Masters which I will begin in September, I read Bobby Lloyd’s chapter on ‘The portable studio’ in the book ‘Art Therapy and Political Violence’. This gave me further understanding of the nature of the work of Art Refuge UK.”

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The core team returns to its usual fortnightly visits next week.

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