Another week, another blog discussing some of the things going on around the refugee crisis in Europe.
I hope that many of you watched the documentary on BBC2, Exodus. It was really dramatic to see the actual process of travelling across the sea from such a close up perspective, and just goes to show the lengths that people go to, and the danger they put themselves in to escape from persecution, political instability or war. Part one is now up on iPlayer and the series continue tonight with the next step of the journey across mainland Europe to Calais. It won’t be an easy watch, but it’s really important that we see these stories, learn how ubiquitous they are for so many people and understand that we will have to deal with the psychological aftermath of this process for the next 100 years. There will be a whole generation of people living in Europe for whom this was their childhood experience and we need to be ready to deal with that, talk openly about it and find ways that we can support thousands of people who will be suffering silently with the post-traumatic stress of fleeing for their lives.
As well as being actively involved in Crew for Calais I am a member of an online community of people from around the world (especially focused in the European mainland). This community of Edgeryders brings together people who are working at the edges of technical development, social cohesion and development communities. There are people who work for UNDP, people running and living in intentional communities looking at new ways of structuring human civic interaction, hackers, digital nomads and a whole group of people who see the current systems as broken or fractured and want to use their skills, interests and knowledge to crack open these busted models and make real, positive change to the world around them. By using collective intelligence and engaging with each other’s ideas and projects we support the development of new initiatives.
Currently we are undertaking a massive three project called OpenCare, looking at ways that individuals, hackers, makers and all kinds of small scale initiatives can develop/work together to create a response to the Care crisis that Europe is on the cusp of plunging into. You can find out more about the project here: https://edgeryders.eu/en/op3ncare/home
Part of this process has been to look at the issues surrounding ‘people on the move’. This broad subject heading allows us to look at the issues that we all face in the current circumstances, including a number of politically hot topics, like intra-European migration, access to health and civic services, temporary contract workers, a mobile workforce and an increasing lack of job stability. As performing arts people, I know that this is of interest as the situation is very similar to the way that many of us live our lives.
Obviously we can also use this topic to think about refugees and asylum seekers. I’ve been using my time out in Calais to share more information with a wider European audience about the situation there. I was amazed how few people knew about the circumstances of the camp there, or who thought that the camp was a much more established, official organisation. They’ve certainly been interested to learn about how the systems and structures have grown up there, especially as they have been put in place almost exclusively through self-organisation and volunteer development. It’s unique to find such a large socio-economic structure with so many people feeding into it, and taking out of it, that has developed without any input from the institutional structures of government or NGO input.
It has also been really revealing to learn about some of the projects that are occurring in Germany. The situation there is very different, because you have a large number of people who are where they want to be, and are just waiting for the slow moving machinery of state to process them and secure their status. Nevertheless, the problems that have been found at the refugee processing centres/camps in Berlin mirror many of the issues that occur in France, mostly a lack of services and opportunities for the young men who are there, coupled with a general lack of opportunity to use skills and find ways to deal with the crippling boredom they find themselves subject to while they wait for papers and permission.
A group of students for UDK (University of the Arts, Berlin) have been working with refugees in the centre in the old Templehof airport complex (seeing a massive Nazi building turned into temporary housing and support services for refugees fleeing persecution is my idea of delicious irony). You can follow their development and implementation by visiting the following links:
https://edgeryders.eu/en/home-sweet-home (in English)
It’s been a pleasure to see how they have approached a social integration problem from a design point of view and watching their investigation develop and focus has really made me think about some of the problems in Calais, and how, sometimes, in looking to deal with humanitarian needs we overlook the more complex, intangible needs at the top of Maslow’s pyramid of needs because we’re focusing on perfecting the systems at the bottom.
What I mean by this is that whilst the situation in places like Calais continues to be sub-optimal in terms of health and safety provision, I see that there is now more need for attention to be paid to creating some basic services around esteem and self-actualisation. Because Calais is a world within the world cultural integration is a much smaller part of the landscape in the camp than we are seeing in similar structures around Europe. To this extent our European neighbours are doing a better job at finding ways to integrate refugees into their communities.
Since the clearances in the southern section Calais to me feels more like a place where the traditions and cultures of the various communities have crystallised into separate, homogenous sectors. Whilst this is of interest from a socio-anthropological view, and it certainly makes for an interesting walk around the camp, it doesn’t do much to help with integration into either modern British society, or into contemporary French culture.
In the UK we’ve historically been concerned with the ghetto-isation of migrant communities within our cities. We see that in the long term this approach to social integration hasn’t necessarily worked, and serves to divide and isolate communities from each other, leading to the fear and mistrust that we see now playing out in our post-referendum malaise.
This brings me back to the things I’ve been writing about for the last two weeks, around how we support the services in the UK working with people who have made it here.
Most of the people I have spoken to in Calais want to come to the UK because they have family already here. Their experiences and journeys has been similar to those we saw in the Exodus documentary and it is vital for the future health of our communities that we realise that whilst arrival and asylum in the UK might be the end of their physical journey, it is barely the start of their emotional and psychological journeys to safety. We must make sure that we don’t demand (through callousness, or through lack of interest) these people disappear into their own crystalised ghetto communities in our cities, but that they are encouraged to integrate into our society, and that our society is forced to integrate into theirs.
The arts can, and must, play a formative role in bridging this gap between cultures. Whether it be through music, dance, film or theatre, we are encouraged to see the similarities in human culture and not the differences. It is tempting to think purely in terms of stories, of bearing witness to the plight of others, but if we can’t also dance and sing and laugh with people who have suffered we are at risk of creating an artificial barrier between ourselves. Suffering and fear are universal languages, but so are laughter and joy.
Keep fighting the good fight; keep putting pressure on those who need to be reminded of their humanity; keep challenging yourself to do things that scare you; keep working to make sure that we don’t forget our duties as a rich, powerful, prosperous and peaceful nation.
Just keep on keeping on.
‘illegitimi non carborundum’