I was incredibly pleased Just Shelter invited me to accompany them on Saturday to the Dunkirk Refugee’s Children Centre again, and I’m grateful to all involved for allowing me to document the day. Since first going to the Jungle in Calais in December 2015 I have been mindful of respecting people’s privacy and have avoided posting images of recognisable faces online. However, a part of me really wishes I could share more of the images I took this weekend, but of course safe-guarding means that isn’t possible. If it were you would see children just like yours and mine, playing, laughing and enjoying a fantastic day. We are all used to seeing some incredibly powerful images in the news, as journalists cover the crisis, but often those images emphasise and re-inforce difference. During all of my trips to northern France I have tried to focus on aspects which I recognise as deeply human regardless of any of the categorisations we apply to each other. For example, an innate creative response in all and every social group. This morning, as I looked through and edited photos from Saturday, it was extremely clear the children I photographed in Dunkirk and those I might be employed to capture in south London are exactly the same. Although the former aren’t living surrounded by all that we take for granted, they are just kiddies doing what kids do. The people who set up and run the Children’s Centre in Dunkirk have done a fantastic job making that a possibility.
If I could show some of those other photos I took, the ones with faces, you would see joy in the smiles of the girls who had been singing and dancing to Let it Go from Frozen several times, just like my friends’ daughters might have done, before playing All About That Bass as loudly as they were allowed to. You’d see the eager faces of toddlers who enjoy showing off artwork or toys they are particularly fond of. And perhaps you’d be able to recognise and connect with the physicality of the little boy who skipped through the camp in exactly the same way my own four-year-old son does routinely. The delicious hysterical laughter triggered by Earlsfield based performer, Jake Rodrigues, was, as always, wonderful to hear. Perhaps one of the best things from the day was the genuine, utterly spontaneous laughter from so many young children, and we were rewarded with plenty of it. Jake thoroughly entertained everyone, including a journalist who insisted on joining him with a guitar he somehow found during the second half of the day, which led to an impromptu mini-gig for all. I’d hope that rather than difference my photos would show you how very similar we all are. But even though we had such a lovely time the seriousness of the situation could not and should not be ignored. For instance, you can’t help but notice the rashes and bites some children have on their skin, an inevitable and common problem in refugee camps, as it would be for anyone living in cramped conditions without adequate facilities. I have nothing but admiration for any parent living under such conditions while bringing up their children.
During our time in Dunkirk, it was very hard to conceive of anyone wishing those children harm, or of being unable and unwilling to offer sanctuary; yet there they are, stuck with their families in a refugee camp that is woefully inadequate, despite being a far cry from the first Dunkirk camp, shut down last year. The officials who allowed the current camp to be built have done so with some risk to their political careers and should be applauded for that at least. Even so, families are in dire circumstances and the help they receive is deeply appreciated. I know Just Shelter and the Children’s Centre have expressed their huge thanks for all support they receive.
Just Shelter are hosting a coffee morning on 10th March in Earlsfield at 9.15am to raise awareness, garner any further interest and help, as well as raise funds or donations. I will be giving a short talk and showing some more photographs from my various trips to the area. Please get in touch if with me or Just Shelter if you are interested. Numbers are limited so don’t leave it too late.
Views my own.
Images (c)SJField 2017