CALAIS - SEPTEMBER 22-23, 2017
The organisations describe a marked deterioration in the situation this week, people in a heightened state of vigilance and a sense of a concerted effort by the authorities to make life very uncomfortable for refugees. This week has seen the brutal early morning evictions of two unofficial camps, one outside Dunkirk and the other also near the Belgium border with over 400 people losing their temporary homes.
There have been noticeable tensions with unacceptable levels of violence from the CRS police and serious fighting amongst different ethnic groups overnight, leaving several people hospitalised. The women in particular have been asking for help and protection.
While hot showers have finally been installed these are limited in number and queues are long. The organisations are getting increasingly exhausted as are the refugees themselves with little reprieve except for the sunnier weather that is basking Calais on these late September days.
In the morning we met with our friends from the hostel, invited to share tea and fruit, touched by the ongoing support and care that these men show one another.
Two weeks ago we wrote about feeling flat and needing a hilltop, a vantage point from which to gain perspective, a lookout post in the context of a town where the landscape is generally very flat and the need to remain on alert high. There was one of these built on top of the sand dunes in the final days of 'the jungle' camp last October. On Thursday we set about making a plaster hilltop on the large table, explaining our motivation to those who enquired which was greeted with several nods of recognition.
This was an unsettled and unsettling afternoon in which we felt the need to be vigilant, mirrored by others who touched base with us. One man spoke of the fact he is always on the look out, as he hovered over the activity at the table, not able to settle to take part.
While the plaster took time to harden other activity took place in the room. One man built an earthquake-proof house, and spoke about his shock at reading about the Mexican earthquake earlier in the week. At other tables men drew intently and with great focus, able to be absorbed. There were several detailed trucks drawn, routes across the Channel, tunnels and bridges. One 16 year old in particular impressed us with the 7 or 8 languages he speaks, three years travelling and in the legal process of safe passage to the UK.
Only towards the end of the session did the hill finally become populated with trees, rocks and a person, a few men allowing themselves to enter a miniature world where play could happen. Two men touchingly drove the miniature lorry, reversing and tipping its load, sound effects in tow.
The session ended abruptly, another evening ahead, reality of the night and the need to look out.
On outreach this morning to the distribution area near the old camp we were struck by the numbers of young people standing on, sitting on or walking across the old slag heaps and mounds of recycled sand that sit in a large area between the factories. For these refugees it's clearly a good place to look out from, get perspective, as well as find refuge upon for sleeping. We also spoke to one African worker from a state-run organisation who told us about the racism he receives each day in Calais and how hard it is for people here.
Many of the young people are apparently losing hope, the violence outside so unwelcome, yearning for something that feels beyond their reach. The afternoon was however the usual mixture of warmth and domestic activity with some of the boys and volunteers joining us at the table, others off to visit their friend in the hospital, lots of comings and goings. The rootedness in culture, Eritrean and Ethiopian, always sings through in this setting, traditional homes once again built alongside drawing, paint and lighting - art-making mixed in with the ongoing muddle of life.