Esther Usiskin Cohen

EUC Consultancy Services

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Refugee Resilience Collective:  Friday 16 March 2018

On 16 March, it was Esther and Julia at the Warehouse in Calais. As we drove in we were aware of groups of young men on the roundabouts and verges, and a very visible and significant police presence.

At the Warehouse we met with the refugee Women’s Centre team when we first arrived. At the end of the day we saw a wonderful group of speech and language therapists who have been working with the school bus project, going out each day to work with young refugees. In between we met individual volunteers from Utopia56, Help Refugees and Refugee Youth Service and the Women’s Centre.

Compared to our previous snowy and freezing visit, the sun was shining and it felt warm and spring-like. There was a group of volunteer hairdressers doing an outdoor marathon hair-cutting session. So important for the people doing this work to get a bit of care themselves.

We heard about the struggles and challenges faced by the many hundreds of refugees around Calais and Dunkerque - the stress, vulnerability, the serious injuries, trauma and mental health challenges.  

In contrast to these stories of injustice and pain we also witnessed some moments and experiences of beauty and joy. A group of refugees were sitting round campfires opposite the Warehouse, and their music and singing accompanied our work in a poignant evocation of their homes. Volunteers talked about the experience of feeling useful and purposeful, moments of connection and ordinary relating to individual refugees and with other volunteers, feeling that they fit here, that they belong to a community working and living intensely together, with common purpose and values. There is sometimes an acute feeling of discomfort with finding joy in the work, when the situation for refugees is so dire, but these moments are as real as the pain and outrage.

We heard a story about Christmas Day, when the Refugee Youth Service took out speakers, groups played their music, and everyone from all the different regions and countries danced together - an inspiring and moving exception to the conflicts that have sometimes arisen. All took turns calling out the name of their country and everyone danced together. There were a couple of people performing fire and circus acts, and it was hard to finish -  to return for the Warehouse volunteers to have their own Christmas meal.

We look forward to seeing how the work will continue to develop.