The warm weather in Calais has brought with it good things as well as laid starkly bear the challenges. There are up to 700 refugees in the area and they are desperate for water which is currently all provided through mobile distribution with no fixed water pipes. Trips with small groups of refugees to the beach to enjoy the sunshine couples for some with memories of dangerous departures and arrivals. Things need to be mobile and portable in order to meet refugees where they are as people are so scattered at the moment across the Calais area and services cannot stay in one place and continue to be effective.
With our friend we inevitably talked about the warm weather which he said wasn’t a patch on that in Sudan and only as hot as early morning there. Our conversation turned to mobile homes. We had ourselves just arrived from a discussion at the safe house about an idea for a mobile chapel to reach people dispersed in different locations. Our friend remembered the caravans that had been used to house more vulnerable people in the large camp and asked what happened to them when the site was cleared.
It was quieter than usual in the day centre which was thought to be due to the dispersed nature of people across the Calais area as well as people’s fear of leaving their shelters. There is now clear evidence that when police are doing clearances there is no chance of individuals collecting their belongings.In response to the sun we set up a table outside in the large courtyard space with covered areas to one side. Here we introduced our box of found objects and cyanotype (sun-print) paper to capture the strong sunshine. Young men joined us one by one, the individual attention required in the printing process leading to some touching interactions and making together. A box of toy vehicles proved very popular. We could see the great potential for creative activity in this large outdoor space.
Moving on to the distribution point we joined Medecins du Monde. Tents, mobile projects and gatherings of refugees and helpers were scattered across this dusty patch of land, with no water pipes and individuals grateful to be handed a bottle. It reminded us of the early days of the large camp when utilities were sparse and people were struggling with basic subsistence. In this context the large map, miniature vehicles and bricks found a temporary home, and although several young men said they were only for children they seemed pleased to briefly join the table to play, piling the vehicles high, finely balanced.
At the Secours Catholique meeting there was great concern about the wilful lack of water supplies on the part of the State. There was discussion about the need to put together basic kits of water, eye wash (needed following tear gas), biscuits and basic hygiene (to disinfect cuts etc). The need to form a group that is trained to lead on advocacy and access to people’s rights was also addressed. There was reference to a new group of Libyans, and other new arrivals. Refugees are very tired, and there is a real need for an increase in family hosting to offer individuals some respite.
The afternoon at the safe house was preceded by a visit to one of the areas known as the Green Hotel to drive an injured teenager over to the house. The house is full and several people have injuries while a new arrival needing looking after was barely a teenager. A group had returned in the early hours from the port, a small group gathered in the small yard at the back eating the remains of last night’s curry and intensely discussing the world.
With all of this as the backdrop, we were joined by teenagers and volunteers around the dining-room table for an afternoon of care, laughter and singing. The mobile chapel idea was discussed while the toy vehicles made their way into the sun prints and onto the table in a series of small playful installations which were brought together in our usual lighting and film sequence at the end.As we arrived into the evening sun at Folkestone we passed a mobile library on the motorway and thought about the ongoing potential in Calais for such things.