We had been unable to travel to Calais last week due to the snowy weather and hazardous driving conditions in the UK. Since Monday this week the Cold Weather Plan in Calais has been closed as the weather has started to improve; if the cold weather returns before March 31st the shelters will reopen; thereafter they will be closed until next Winter. There are thought to be 400-500 refugees at the moment in Calais.
The German Ambassador to France visited Calais on Thursday with a delegation from Caritas in Germany with further delegations to follow next week. On Friday morning after the delegations had left we learnt that many of the tents were once again destroyed by the police and it’ll be two weeks before they can be retrieved.
At the Secours Catholique team meeting on Friday these issues were debated: if we can’t exchange with others the realities of this situation then nothing is going to change, therefore these delegation visits were thought to be important.
There are two places where the State has begun to serve food this week in place of the associations. These areas are surrounded by extra fencing, barbed wire and surveillance cameras. There have also been twenty or so journalists with cameras. As a result, many refugees haven't eaten for several days as they don’t trust this new set-up in addition to which refugees are actively boycotting the area as they don’t want to risk their things being stolen while they are getting food which has already taken place in a number of cases. They also don’t want to be manipulated and they seem to be finding a way to resist the brutality as the only form of resistance they have left. As one young refugee commented, “I’m not exactly eating diamonds here”.
There was much discussion about the importance of respecting refugees’ right to manifest how they want to protest to get their rights and needs heard and met.
The day held beautiful early Spring light. At the day centre music-making has continued to be encouraged which has made a big difference in the interactions across cultures and more opportunities for connections between people. The session had a gentle pace, allowing for several extended, often moving conversations with individuals. There was a lot of reference to family - ‘I haven’t spoken to my family for eight months’, ‘my wife lives in the UK and we are trying to find a way to meet in France as I can’t reach her’; ‘many members of my family live in Birmingham - I hope to join them some day, God willing’.
In spite of all this pain and longing there was motivation to create - one teenager making a film in a spontaneous moment, picking up where we left off with him three weeks ago, continuity valued and these fragile links sustained.
International Women’s Day on Thursday was acknowledged with a special Massage and Crepe Day which acted as a much needed and moving point of exchange for women surviving in the Calais area where efforts to offer them more support are currently being activated.
Here connections were also rekindled. The sun was strong and offered some warmth in front of the map where there was discussion about family, health, politics and food. The map itself offered a shared space for mutual interest and support. There was also a lot of anger and frustration expressed through the map and resources that we provided. One young man told his desperate friend, ‘we must have hope, inshallah’.
At the bedside of our friend we watched the finished animation we had made together over the past month. In the film the mother asks her teenage son to listen to her and heed her advice. With his close friend, we discussed mothers generally, and learnt an Arabic saying, “If you foster good mothers you prepare a great nation”. We also discussed how women across the world are increasingly holding important positions of power which was unanimously thought to be a good idea! We were touched by the fact that both these men still ask their mothers for advice and support.
The Safe House was full of sick teenagers, in bed with flu and colds following the change to warmer, if wetter weather. There was a meeting taking place and clothes drying on every surface including the backs of chairs around the table. In this context we set up a landscape together with the fitter members of the household. With good humour, a lot of imagination and collective goodwill we pulled off a filmic landscape that brought the group together and also reflected something of the busy, chaotic household that is underpinned with trust and love.