On Thursday we were based in CAMI working with young people in conjunction with MSF and the Refugee Youth Service.
The weather was beautiful and hot with a clear blue sky. We used both the inside and outside spaces. We papered the side of the portacabin, which became a wall of handprints, animals from people’s countries, Arabic and English words – an exchange of cultures and a wish to communicate and make a mark.
The background noise of sirens, shouting and helicopters intruded into the space and along the breeze came the pungent smell of tear gas. Many young men we saw complained of sore eyes and were coughing. At one point we had to retreat inside the portacabin, as the toxic smell of tear gas became too much.
Inside, one young man’s conversation about his life in the camp seemed to reflect the juxtaposition of the beautiful summer’s day and the heavy police presence. He oscillated from optimism to hopelessness about his situation.
At the end of the day we were joined by a group of Eritrean young men, one of whom meticulously drew his country’s flag. Another young man drew a tree which although seemed not to be planted solidly in anything still bore fruit.
Friday morning began with a multi agency meeting with MSF, the Youth Refugee Service and the Calais Resilience Collective. The purpose of the meeting was to join up thinking about the safety and emotional needs of the young people. Concerns were raised about the young people who have been in the camp for a year and the frustrations experienced at the slow response to their legal position. There was anxiety about the profound effect this has on their physical, emotional and mental health, aside from the risk of not being safe.
The afternoon session in the Medecins du Monde space offered collage using old maps, it gave a chance to imagine new routes out of the camp and to the UK. This was a theme that both aid organisations and residents of the camp were thinking about.
The day was cooler and brought gusts of wind, peoples’ thoughts were drawn to the forthcoming seasonal change from summer to Autumn and then winter, it brought questions about what their exit strategies may be.
No one could bear the thought of another winter in the camp this was echoed by the agencies involved. Concerns were raised about the increase in population and how hard it was to get to the UK. Some remained determined and unwavering in their dream while others have made a choice to stay in France.
One resident embellished a collage map wanting to put a ferry route, very clear the ferry needed security and a kitchen that provided much needed food.
The bag of apples that had been placed on the map tablecloth as a snack, gave rise to memories from people’s homes, and again referenced the change of season. Around the table people from such different backgrounds shared joint thought of orchards where apples were grown.
The simple pleasure of the fruit reminded us that even coming from such diverse cultures – common experiences could still be appreciated and enjoyed.