In Calais there are currently lower numbers of refugees than previously but at a consistent level with people in a more urgent state, exhausted, anxious, coming and going in a triangle of movement between Paris, Brussels and Calais. The organisations commented on the large numbers of new faces they are seeing from different countries existing amongst those who have been here for many months. The ever present issue of smuggler activity and alcohol abuse amongst refugees was spoken about as were concerns that many refugees are starting to use the services more as a drop-in rather than with a desire to make community which has been so central to the culture of services in Calais until recently.
There is the end of summer feel with a number of groups of volunteers from across Europe leaving the town by the end of the week.
Eid lifted the atmosphere with imminent celebrations on Saturday and people speaking to their families on their phones, helping lift palettes, make banners, prepare food.
This was the last of our 3 day summer residencies at the Secours Catholique Day Centre. Across the three days we established a culture of making and play at a large table in the main day centre space, the first day starting quietly and becoming richer. We were struck by the number of extended conversations about school, study and home inspired by the activity of brick-building and creating of landscape that perhaps itself connected with childhood and play.
This week we were pleased to be joined by Katie Miller who worked previously in the large Calais camp with the Hummingbird Project and will be co-delivering our new London project for recent arrivals, starting this Autumn, which we hope will offer a useful link for people.
Our first of the three sessions at the day centre got off to a gentle start, people drifting into the room, plugging in their phones, moving between the spaces, perching here and there for a while. The rich landscape that developed across the table held Calais, the Channel, London, parts of Eritrea, Italy and an imagined place. The port in Calais which is in the process of being enlarged featured here, with diggers and piles of bricks and cement. One young man spoke about his school years in Eritrea while building the playground, library and perimeter wall, remembering detail such as the chocolate ice cream at the school gate.
Following a morning of meeting with Medecins du Monde and a visit to Anthony Caro’s beautiful sculpture The Chapel of Light at nearby Bourbourg, we held a rich, long afternoon session over 5 hours in which a number of individuals joined us to build and play at the large table.
An Egyptian farm, a Sudanese house, Stonehenge, the church in the rock in Ethiopia, a forest and treehouse, lorries of all shapes and sizes loaded up with cargo. Mixed into the building process there was sharing of detail about politics, fleeing home, hiding in a truck axel; above all the conversation was about school - languages and sports and the specific shape of a building.
It was calm in the Day Centre save for activity related to Eid celebrations, peeling of potatoes, an English class in the background, Connect 4, dates passed from table to table, a hum of concentration with individuals on their head phones while simultaneously charging their phones.