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Calais - November 3-5, 2021

It was cold, the wind was intense, the Channel sea rough with a possibility of a rainbow, but the rain held off. The refugee population lives under the canopy of the sky which this week was dramatic, wide and open, the clouds rolling in off the sea.

It was a week of shocking new tragedies: several people were injured and three people died while we were there, two drowning at sea, and a third killed by a train in a nighttime accident.

The French authorities have just announced a moderation of their treatment of the 1,500 or so refugees sleeping rough in Calais which includes some emergency winter accommodation which opened yesterday. This follows a three week hunger strike by a French priest and two activists alongside a 79 page document by Human Rights Watch accusing the authorities of abuse.

This week we were joined by artist Aida Silvestri whose origins are in Eritrea and with whom we work closely in Folkestone, Kent.

We all three witnessed magical moments at The Community Table which we set up in the welcoming and safe environment of the busy Secours Catholique day centre on Wednesday and Friday, each day accommodating 5/600 people.

In this environment, men seemed to understand the concept of de-stressing around the table. In-between house building, drawing and portraiture, the typewriters came into their own, dramatic genres expressed in type ranging from comedy to tragedy, formal thank you letters to personal love letters, letters of loss and of regret. There were short, urgent protests: “peopleneedtoeatmeat”.

On Thursday it was the first time in 18 months that we’d been out to the edge of town with Médecins du Monde, with an impressive team of both old and new colleagues. Placing the large World map on a grassy slope between the mobile clinic and the other organisations, a large vista was created, allowing for poignant reflections on different aspects of the world: tuna in Peru, the unfairness of the political border between Sudan and South Sudan, the beauty of a skylark, seeing the whole of Africa as if for the first time.

Bobby Lloyd, Miriam Usiskin, Aida Silvestri

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