This week the mistreatment of the Windrush generation is still making headline news in the UK. It highlights that the existing asylum systems are both dehumanising and negligent.
In Calais, refugees arrive with the hope of crossing to the UK to find safe refuge; they dream of a situation where they can thrive.
Reports are that the numbers of refugees in the Calais area are growing. People arrive, possibly spurned on by the seasonal change and determination to get to a place of safety. However, when arriving in Calais they face systamatic abuse by police who regularly dismantle any termporary shelters that people have and destroy belongings. Often the little possessions people have are lost.
Even in this situation it is heartwarming to see the ability that people have to survive and even thrive through adversity. Once again this week we were blown away (literally and metaphorically) by the difficult stories we heard but also by people’s kindness and ability to accept one another in such adverse circumstances.
The afternoon began gently in the Day Centre. This is the first week of Ramadan and some refugees refused tea or coffee and chose to rest for a while. The centre offers a caring, calm environment where people can choose to enagage or just be. It is also a place where people can choose to be connected to loved ones and people afar, using Wifi. Around the tablecloth map houses were built and plasticine moulded. A young child played with us, reminding us that displacement happens at all ages.
The Distrubtion point began gently too. Although the sky was clear a strong wind whipped up, spreading dust everywhere, as in the desert. The map was used with full force, and journeys and routes marked out. Many people discussed travelling through deserts, marking and pausing at points on their own routes to Calais.
Desert life is hard – some people journeyed quickly through these points whereas some shared stories of staying for months in a barren environment. Each journey, each route, has a different narrative but the desert, whereever it is, always has wind. There are many names for it - Haboob, Shamal, Shariav, Kahasim… These names evoke the relentless challenge of a blustering wind. Standing out next to the Médicins du Monde van we felt the force of a desert wind in Calais. It blew dust around which swirled and whirled, delivering grit into eyes and drying lips.
But amongst this, acitivites thrived – the map was used and viewed, the School Bus Project alongside us created a working space, while the medical team buised themselves seeing people. A Finnish skittle game was played and enjoyed, even in the wind.
The group at the Safe House was all about building - houses and even some mansions grew on the map tablecloth. A carefully constructed house was filmed on time lapse. The map illicted discussions about routes and journeys, the Sahara desert is unavoidable on the route from Ethiopia and Eritrea to Libya, the first part of the treacherous trek to Europe. “Life is hard in the desert” a young man said, who had been in the Sahara for over a month. The houses built were strong with doors and windows able to withstand the onslaught of a tough wind. The Safe House offers respite and a stable comforting place to rest before these young men continue on their journey.