MAY 8, 2020
CONTEXT Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and France in mid March we have been unable to deliver our usual service in Calais, with both the border and day centres closed.
The difficulties for refugees along the northern France coast have been exacerbated by inevitably reduced services from organisations, woefully inadequate Covid-19 response from the French state, and shockingly heightened police violence and intimidation. The pandemic has simply added another layer to the ongoing border challenges. Throughout this period, refugees have continued to risk their lives in small boats in an effort to reach the UK to claim asylum. This morning, several boats were intercepted in the English Channel near Dover.
As with other organisations and services that offer a service to refugees and asylum seekers in these settings, we have needed to pause, regroup and respond in different and creative ways.
THE COMMUNITY TABLE ONLINE This week we were delighted to launch The Community Table Online with a core group of twelve people made up of Art Refuge team members, interpreters, volunteers and staff from our colleagues at Secours Catholique in Calais and Paris, Maria Skobtsova safe house in Calais, and people with a refugee background who have taken part in The Community Table in Calais, now living in Lille, Paris and Birmingham.
Following our regular fortnightly pattern we will meet on Wednesdays every two weeks for up to an hour and make art together on Zoom. The idea is to reach out through our networks to other individuals who are in transit, isolated or seeking asylum in France and the UK. Together with the core group, we will be make art together around The Community Table Online. Eventually we plan to return to the physical table in Calais but we know that things will be very different.
The first meeting around this virtual ‘table’ was a moving experience with introductions, a fifteen minute art activity and plans for the next time. Further updates will follow on a fortnightly basis.
CORONAQUILT AND SEWING GROUP From a physical distance, we have been developing the Coronaquilt project with safe houses in Calais with the help of wonderful Secours Catholique volunteers and contributions of images (www.coronaquilt.org); and have laid the groundwork for our first Zoom sewing group to start next week in the Maria Skobtsova refugee safe house.
SUPPORT FOR TEAMS Our partners have shown their resilience by adapting their work under immensely challenging conditions, putting added stress on the staff and volunteer teams. Art Refuge has in turn offered regular arts based crisis support online to the Secours Catholique teams in Calais and Paris, learning new tools and techniques together as we go, including regular photographic tasks; and next week also with our colleagues from the Médecins du Monde mobile clinic.
Bobby Lloyd and Miriam Usiskin
If you would like to donate towards this ongoing work the link is here: https://www.justgiving.com/artrefuge-uk With thanks from Art Refuge