CALAIS - OCTOBER 3-4, 2019
Early October has already brought a change in the weather with colder winds signalling a fifth winter since the Art Refuge programme began in Calais.
Yesterday we met a well informed young African man who has been keeping a strong hold on British politics, Brexit and the Irish backstop. He spoke in calm and elegant language.
This week we have met a number of much younger teenagers who have travelled thousands of miles in the quest to find a safe place for themselves. They have endured the most complex journeys in which they’ve been forced off course - their fingerprints taken against their will; they’ve been flown from one European country to another as part of a deal; or from one Middle Eastern country to central Africa and had to make their way back. A 15 year old has found himself diverted hundreds of miles on foot during his long journey to Calais.
All these young men showed us a remarkable tenacity in getting up, brushing themselves down and trying again.
The shocking level of destruction of the small pockets of forestation and heavy police presence has led to perhaps the bleakest landscape we have seen in four years.
The ambulance was parked on a roadside verge just off the motorway in the most exposed location to date; surrounded by factories emanating toxic fumes. This location was chosen by the Médecins du Monde team because their usual pitch is now unsafe. The map glowed in this environment.
We began in the day centre setting up The Community Table before we left to join the ambulance. On our return The Community Table was fully occupied with several young men using the typewriters with fascination, and quietly drawing together as a group, the culture of the table carrying through with well informed conversations continuing from where we left off. There was a sense of really looking after each other, camaraderie and care.
We brought the bricks back onto The Community Table responding to the change in weather and the marked lack of outdoors shelter. They felt right. As one of the interpreters at the table commented, there were young men from Sudan, Eritrea, Niger, Afghanistan and Iraq, alongside volunteers, all sitting together which he said rarely happened in the larger day centre space. There was humour and collaboration with buildings falling down; and being picked up and built again in new constellations.
The atmosphere at the table was gentle, with buildings slowly emerging, conversations becoming more open, and volunteers and refugees finding mutual respect and affirmation across the confines of language.