CALAIS - OCTOBER 17-18, 2019
Arriving in Calais we learnt that the bodies of two young men had been found washed up on the beach further along the coast, following their attempt to reach the UK by boat. The weather has been terrible with relentless rain and high numbers of people needing support, reaching a peak of two hundred at the day centre on Tuesday.
On our arrival at Secours Catholique, we also heard of the painful decision to close the day centre for Thursday and Friday. This followed threats and intimidation of the staff team by a large group of new arrivals from a geographic area not usually seen at the centre.
Those waiting at the gate were naturally upset that they would be denied shelter, security, WiFi and phone charge. This situation highlights the immense challenges of creating a safe space in such a charged atmosphere.
Complexities were played out wherever we looked and in all directions against the backdrop of Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal, the uncertainty increasing the risks that people are willing to take.
As we arrived at the road where distribution takes place we saw men scattered across a car park area in sleeping bags, literally sleeping out, unprotected, in the open. Adjacent was a new high fence that cordoned off the wooded area where people had previously camped - lit up against a rare moment of blue afternoon sky.
The ambulance was parked on one of the only patches of ground left, up against piles of rubbish and people camping in a tiny corridor of trees. People were coming to the doctor with classic health issues related to poverty and homelessness - scabies, colds, stomach aches; and injuries sustained by violence, running from the police.
There were tiny pockets of genuine interaction at the map - a selection of postcards aiding conversation; a family group tracing their route together.
Now that it has been closed until Monday the empty space of the day centre was felt acutely, backdropped by torrential rain. We offered the Secours Catholique team a chance to build a landscape together across a number of tables. Fragmented urban areas were peppered with tiny patches of green.
As the day centre was closed we were invited to join Médecins du Monde at the Dunkirk camp where conditions are bleak, family groups sleeping together in makeshift tented areas next to a lake, men queuing for food. Various services arrived while we were there - mobile phone charging units, a truck full of blankets.
We also saw ingenuity in the rain - shelters fashioned from gold emergency blankets, supermarket trolleys used as tables, tea brewed on top in Kurdish teapots. Many individuals were however searching for the most basic items - socks, sleeping bags, tents. There were underlying tensions with a sense that things could kick off at any moment - two days of ever smaller circles of protection.