Yesterday was a sunny day and surprisingly warm while today it was misty and miserable. This change in weather mirrors the sense in Calais of a lack of stability in which everyone has to constantly readjust to what they find in-front of them, leaving people on edge. This was also reflected in the Brexit negotiations which were at their height of turmoil yesterday, a day which also marked the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport in which 10,000 child refugees were safely brought to the UK. On the France-UK border these political issues are critical.
What we witness is the reality, and we see the dissonance between what happens literally on the ground and what is being discussed at higher levels.
Numbers are consistent, reportedly around 450 in Calais, many more in Dunkirk, estimated at up to 2000 refugees across the northern France stretch. Outreach immigration officers have been stopped here. Therefore there is no accurate information to give to refugees who have to go to Lille to find it. Ironically we also met Home Office staff in the area trying to convince underage teenagers to take up a safe route to the UK. Things feel fragmented, incoherent and muddled with connections not being made.
On Friday morning we met a worker from Help Refugees and discussed the training and support needs for those working in this incredibly complex context.
The security of workers was undermined this week. For example, there were two instances of deliberately slashed van tyres, and resin was poured into the day centre lock making it impossible to gain access without the lock being replaced, and leaving the staff and volunteers feeling under attack.
At the day centre the space quickly filled with at least one hundred people and there was a need to remain calm and measured on our part so that people could access the space. A Bollywood film lifted the atmosphere at around the time we needed to leave for the distribution point.
Here the early November evening light still held across the rough ground next to the Medecins du Monde ambulance. We decided to capitalise on this, placing our newest map on the fence and the tablecloth map on the ground along with bricks and coloured wooden blocks. With a bit of adjustment we managed to create a useable space which played with the light and seemed accessible to a number of young men who were in the area. One built a house that deliberately straddled the border between South Sudan and Sudan.
There was a more convivial atmosphere in the day centre space while outside it was misty and cold. It seemed easier than yesterday for people to sit down and join in. Amidst all the political and local disjuncture outside, people were able to sit around the table inside and play across cultures and without a shared language.
Initially some of the men seemed stressed while taking it in turns to build a tower, finding it hard to stabalize shaky hands when placing pieces, slowly relaxing into creative play, breathing more freely, even taking creative risks. For one man familiar to us there was perhaps relief at not needing to talk about his current experience outside, where nothing has changed, but to take comfort in making something beautiful alongside another person.
We left via a visit to the Safe House which is recovering from another recent bedbug cleansing. Boys on crutches came and went, domestic life quietly carrying on as we sat around the table trying to find ways to link up the coloured blocks.