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Tightrope walking


Time is being called on the camp.

As a team we picked up on the desperation, anxiety, tension and fear felt by so many residents of the camp, created in large part by this week’s conflicting announcements by the French government and local council about the camp’s imminent closure, which many think will take place by the end of October, some think over 3 days, others that it will be spread over a few weeks with dispersal of people across France.

We’ve noticed that life described in numbers seems to be one way for residents of the camp to measure the weight of their experiences and to hold onto them when the current feels so precarious and timeframes unclear.

Over the two days we heard that one boy had been in a small boat with 350 people for 7 days from Egypt to Sicily, another for 12 days from North Africa; that one had hidden under cattle in a truck in Sudan for 7 days and later spent one year in a prison in Libya; he has been travelling for 9 years (from ages 7-16). We heard how people have been in the camp for 22 days, 10 days, two weeks, three months, nine months, one year.

One boy spoke of his papers being ready for the UK as part of the family reunification process – telling us that in the camp 10 days are the same as 100 days, but any more days of waiting now he is so close is becoming unbearable; the precarity feeling to us very much like a tightrope.

One boy commented on another that when he arrived in the camp he was a bambino, and now he is a man after seven months as shown by the new growth on his chin; this boy commented that a third boy was calm when he first met him seven months ago, and is now behaving very madly.

Many people we’ve known for a long time, as well as those newer to us, are wanting to tell their story but can only do so in fragments, as the risk of imminent departure makes the odds too high.

Today a group of Sudanese men came into the Medecins du Monde psychosocial tent to make a tracing of a map of France, marking on it the names of larger cities so that they can start to make their own preparations for their departure.

We heard good news – two men from Sudan are heading to Lille where they have gained university places on an access course; and one young Afghani teenager is gaining legal access to the UK next week to be united with a family member.

This morning we joined colleagues from other agencies at the youth area CAMIE in exploring ways to equip, follow and support unaccompanied minors in a joined up way so as to ensure that as many of the one thousand young people as possible do not get lost in the chaos during the impending upheaval.

Bobby Lloyd, Anna Kälin and Naomi Press

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