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It still makes me cry...

Br Johannes Maertens and his co-workers report on their time in Calais and Dunkirk

Thursday afternoon I was in the Eritrean Refugee tent camp in Calais. The camp is situated alongside the busy motorway that brings cars and trucks into the Port of Calais. Three young teenagers came up to me with a question: “Why the English people didn't come with a ferry to take them to England?”

The young teenagers live in a noisy tent camp along adult men and woman and at least six other children under nine years old. I saw that one of the young boys (I guess 7 years old) had a broken cross around his neck. So, I gave him a new wooden cross from the Holy Land. He was so happy with it. Very soon other youngsters came and ask me for a new cross. I had only five with me.

And the children they played on like other children do, they put aside for a short while the worrying and dangerous world around them.

Here follows a short report from our monthly Art Refuge work in the camps of Calais and Dunkirk:

Dunkirk and Calais, October 4-5, 2023

On Wednesday the weather couldn’t make up its mind - sunny one minute, cold, windy or raining the next. Today was more settled; while this morning there was what appeared to be an unusually low tide making visual distances confusing.

There have been several tragic deaths on the border over the past couple of weeks, while heading into Winter is challenging for everyone in this border context.

We worked outside on both days. Yesterday we joined the @medecinsdumonde team of doctors, nurses and interpreters on the edge of Dunkirk, close to the main living site. We occupied the mobile psychosocial activities van and were joined by both adults and children from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Eritrea and Sudan.

On Thursday we worked alongside our colleagues from Calais organisations next to one of the Eritrean camps, taking tea, coffee, maps, postcards. We noted the heightened responsibility of some children and the chaotic presentation of others, all making sense in different ways of the challenging edge of town context.

Above all in both settings we were moved by the capacity of men, women and children for politeness, patience and respect towards each other and ourselves. Men sat and threaded necklaces in their flag’s colours, really making use of the space offered within the cosy confines of the activities van, and today postcards from around the world proved a helpful catalyst for ideas, knowledge and imagination.

Back in the UK, the Home Secretary spoke this week about a hurricane of mass migration coming to the UK.

Johannes Maertens, Miriam Usiskin, Bobby Lloyd, Jonny Craig

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 issue of the London Catholic Worker newsletter.

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