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Reimagining an Emergency Space


CONTEXT The British government are paying for additional surveillance, fences and policing in Calais, delivered in turn by the French state. With the Brexit date fast approaching refugees are urgently trying to cross to the UK, taking even greater risks.

Rather than working out constructively how to deal with the situation of refugees on the border, the port town of Calais is now punctuated by physical defences, adding to historic defences along the sea front, and creating a hostile environment for everyone.

The wind was biting on Thursday but the sun bright; on Friday the rain was driven by the wind horizontally. Neither are appropriate conditions for living outside.

More than 30 French and British aid organisations and NGOs have this week written to the Special Rapporteur on the right of adequate housing for all, in line with the Declaration of Human Rights.

THURSDAY DISTRIBUTION The day centre, along with the majority of organisations, had made the temporary decision not to operate due to some unique challenges on the ground and we in turn were forced to respond with a new plan. Medecins du Monde as the emergency mobile health clinic continued its work so we joined the team as usual, extending our work across the whole afternoon.

We were mindful of increased interpersonal tensions as well as the physical challenges of strong winds. We were also blessed with the sun and bold shadows. Our work took on a performative quality. By creating a three dimensional map around the bottom of the vast dominant pylon, the large map on the ambulance seemed to have room to breath. We now had a second point of reference, allowing for a new axis. The sculptural map demanded a physical relationship – you needed to walk around its geography. Here some routes were marked out.

The large map glowed by contrast, flat against the ambulance, allowing the colours to be seen less as a political space and more like a landscape painting. Some people’s gaze looked north to Norway, several looked west to Canada. People gathered in front of the map in small groups. They talked together about other parts of the world – asking questions of each other and ourselves: Is the Black Sea black? Is the Red Sea red? How wide is the sea between Spain and Morocco? Can you sail up the Suez Canal? Where is it best to grow rice in Iran?

We started to think about how we might use the van and the pylon in ways that might allow people to connect more – extending the maps physically in different directions, adding sections, and thereby allowing the potential and scope for new ideas.

FRIDAY DAY CENTRE With the day centre temporarily closed the morning meeting was extended to discuss the critical situation in Calais. Our offer of a creative space for the Secours Catholique team at the end of the meeting was taken up, and we spent an hour together building and exploring ideas about shelter and open borders.

SAFE HOUSE Across the afternoon we discussed the Calais context in terms of an emergency phase so the response of organisations continues necessarily to be that of crisis intervention, making this work so specific. It has not yet reached a post emergency phase. And yet many refugees have chosen to claim asylum in northern France and have different needs, as do those who make it across the English Channel.

Amidst some hopelessness some reimagining took place which brought the hope back in – what possible pleasures could a bit of land with two donkeys bring, or an apple orchard that could be accessed for picking and eating?

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