There are more and more refugees in Calais, with exact numbers unknown due to the movement of people between places in and around the city and across northern France. At the Secours Catholique meeting on Friday morning we heard that there are more families as well as children and women on their own, and several newborns. The harsh reality that the large team acknowledged together is that so many people are still stuck at the border with access to their basic human rights denied, including no shelter even in very cold weather.
This week a number of people told us that risking their lives in a small boat on the English Channel was preferred to languishing in Calais. As has been well documented in the British press, several boats of refugees have been found at sea in the past fortnight.
As a service we were very well used across the two days. The day centre session was full with people from several countries and many with little or no English or French language. There were also young children in the space bringing a different atmosphere.
Around the table people came together from different countries and, while busy, it also felt calm. The rich activity attracted attention from around the room, a paper aeroplane landing in amongst the tall towers that were being constructed in small groups. Those who didn’t build watched and commented. There were references to the Tower of Babel. The building of a collaborative tower with parts precariously balanced took place with much humour and playful risk-taking. As one person got up from the table another person sat down, different activities and projects held across the afternoon.
Again the roadside area was much busier than previous weeks as well as windy and cold. Our map didn’t work as a windbreaker and ended up back in its rightful place on the Medecins du Monde ambulance. A number of young men were angry, exhausted and in a state of despair, one saying he was facing his second winter in Calais sleeping outside in the adjacent wood. He like many others has been turned away from one country after another and was struggling to see a way out. The bricks we had brought with us served little purpose in this desolate landscape while the map glowed in the late afternoon light and managed to offer a place for some orientation and temporary relief.
PSYCHOSOCIAL TRAINING SESSION
Our 5th out of 6 training sessions which was on the subject of meeting points and the use of postcards within psychosocial practice was again well attended, with 18 individuals coming to the day centre on a wet and windy November evening.
The session in the day centre was again rich and full with an estimated 150 people using the large space across the afternoon. The room was packed to capacity with not enough chairs for everyone.
A number of people worked alongside us at the table, painting in watercolours, building a house, sculpting an elephant, tracing a tree. Several took what they needed with confidence, both in terms of the materials they chose and the conversations they needed to have. In spite of this we needed to keep an eye on the table, either reducing or replenishing the materials so as not to feed into a sense of the space feeling overwhelming, and yet to offer the right materials for people’s needs.
Around the table there was less despair on Friday afternoon, with extended periods of sitting alongside, making together, problem solving, children coming and going, mothers being phoned and sent photos of artworks back home.