CALAIS - April 18-19, 2019
Various things can come together to make Calais either a tough, inhospitable and challenging place at one end of a line or one in which things feel more possible at the other. This week the sunshine helped to lift spirits and there was a lighter atmosphere than two weeks ago. Perhaps the reprieve from relentless Brexit news has been helpful. Wild Spring flowers are showing themselves on verges and evenings are longer.
We were informed that deportations back to Sudan have increased this year, while this week one was successfully blocked on the runway. The recent demonstrations and activism in Sudan have been widely discussed in the day centre with a radio show on this subject being talked about. Angry feelings have also been aired, including a direct cry for protection from refugees to the organisations. Graffiti on a roundabout near to the Day Centre starkly reads: “People need to live, people need to cross”; “open this fucking border”; “borders kill; we die, you lament us”. The UN report which was launched last week has not brought with it the hoped for action.
The day centre filled up slowly with several young men kicking footballs in the courtyard and enjoying being out in the sun. Unusually we had a small group of children with us at the table alongside others coming and going. The boxes of bricks were enjoyed and play was possible. One boy made a house on the floor while his brother made one on the table, creating a patterned patio. His project was then completed by his mother across the afternoon, resulting in a substantial house with a strong roof structure and elaborate garden wall.
We arrived with the Medecins du Monde ambulance mid afternoon to set up on a different verge side than two weeks previously, now a little further away from the food and toilet area. The atmosphere was very different, with a more relaxed energy helped by the sunshine. At least eighty people came to the area across the two hours, and the map attracted a lot of interest. Several men from Iran traced their journey with a line; there was curiosity and humour and an extensive discussion about the Caspian Sea. We noticed that several young man have made their way from West Africa (Senegal, The Gambia, Benin and Guinea), different routes and experiences able to be accommodated.
At the Secours Catholique team meeting a number of topics were discussed and we were struck by how much the organisation holds, acting a bit like the mother ship for those working in the area with refugees. As such they have to think about all manner of complex issues from asylum; burials of those who have died, and supporting families; detention; Orthodox Easter celebrations; planning for busy months ahead...
The day centre was busy, with the barber shop at one end and the tailoring kiosk at the other. In-between, mobile phones were charged, games played, and conversations held in several languages. The animal postcards inspired a new group of clay animals. A delightful family of ducks was made by one of the brothers from yesterday, while a small group of Sudanese friends playfully produced a rhinoceros, scorpion, mongoose, and a sail boat supported by backup engine and oars in preparation for all eventualities.