Lily Einhorn is the Two Boroughs Project Manager at the Young Vic, working with local residents and community groups in the neighbourhood. She is also a freelance writer and community theatre practitioner. In a series of posts Lily shares her experience of a recent visit to the Good Chance Theatre, a newly constructed creative space in the refugee camp in Calais.
Walking through the settlements, people stop, we shake hands, everyone wants to say hello, ask where you are from. Britain, we say. England. London. Eyes widen. England is the promised land. It’s just not clear who it was promised to. Not these people. Some have walked for eight months to get to the UK. They have trekked over mountains in Afghanistan and desserts in Sudan and paid people smugglers to ride in lorries. They have sailed on make-shift rafts. They have jumped on trains. And then they reach Calais. Between this existence and a new life stand five, tall, wire fences. Wide rolls of barbed wire perching on top. It’s the only option. ‘Each one harder harder than the next,’ says an Afghan man. By the fifth you have to stand, three men on each other’s shoulders. Then you haul the last man up by rope. You’ve done this? I ask. ‘Of course,’ he shrugs. Shows me the scars from the wire, on his face, his hands, his ripped jacket. Then the police send them back. A fair cop. He lived in Stevenage for nine years before being deported on the 26th March of this year. After 11 days at home he fled again: ‘Taliban everywhere,’ with his two younger brothers. It cost them £36000 to get out. He dropped them off in Germany. They’re under 18 and being fostered by a family, ‘They’re happy.’ But he wants to return to the UK. He showed us his British driving licence. He will try again tonight. Five fences, then jump on a goods train or find a place under a stationary lorry. Or not. If he makes it, he’ll claim asylum immediately. ‘I don’t want to be illegal. I’ve never had nothing, no benefits, I work.’
Mish Mish is also from Afghanistan. Older, he has adopted his two year old boy’s nickname for food. He wears the toddlerism like a protective badge. He hasn’t seen him for months. He left, to try to get to England so he can send for his family. He asks me if I have children so I show him a picture of my own two year old. He looks for a long time. ‘She is yellow hair!’ He can’t show me his – the French police took his phone with all his pictures on it. He tells me he managed to speak to his family the night before. His boy, Akhbar, asked him when he would be coming back to play with him again. Then he asked him why his voice sounded funny. Mish Mish mimed holding the phone away from his head while tears streamed down his face. He couldn’t tell him why. The older man’s heart is already broken, he is trying to preserve his son’s.