As we end our penultimate week at La Liniere the drizzle has returned and conditions are feeling anything but summer like. The camp continues to diminish in size as people leave and new joiners are restricted. Overall the camp is a much sadder place and we are seeing much more blatant violence than we have ever seen before. In the last week alone there have been three episodes where groups of men have ambushed others, pulling them off the path outside the school and setting about them with what seemed to be considerable violence. The people in the camp tell us that this has been happening for some time, but we have never actually witnessed it before. We also had our first serious knife incident around the school this week, when a knife was thrown at one of the children. Fortunately the child wasn’t hurt. We halted lessons and asked for help from the camp managers to look for the knife. We did in fact find a knife, but it turned out to be a different knife that we hadn’t even known about.
This week saw more transition projects preparing children for the French schools. There was an off-site day of activities which was carried out in French by local French teachers. The children came back excited about it and talking very enthusiastically about working with the French teachers. We also had an on-site day of programmes this week, the centre piece of which was a French workshop with the children on the UN convention on the rights of the child. Our teaching focus has been upon Maths, English and Science, so this was certainly different to what the children have done previously. It was also a very ambitious class, given that it was in a fairly technical French and the children are still building up their skills in the practical use of French.
With only a week to go until we handover to the French teachers, we spent some time this week confirming French plans for the rest of the month. Previously we have had a French national, working with us in order to help us ensure accurate communications with the French state. His role has grown in the camp and he has become a coordinator of children’s activities. Although this has meant his leaving us at Edlumino, our loss has been the camp’s gain. It has meant that he has been able to think and plan more widely to ensure that coordination with the French teachers is successful and that there are continuing programmes of French activities appropriate to the children.
We had a sadness this week when one of our long standing classroom assistants disappeared. The young man is an unaccompanied minor who, if he were in the UK, would be in year 12. He has tried to get himself smuggled out of the area on a lorry on some 252 occasions already. We do not know if his current disappearance is a sign of the success of his 253 attempt, or whether it has a more sinister explanation. He has tried hiding in frozen lorries and nearly died on a couple of occasions. He has also hidden in tankers and nearly drowned in milk when trying to keep his head above the liquid. We do not know whether his current disappearance is due to a successful smuggling attempt and he is no longer in the area, or whether he has come to harm in a lorry.
More worrying still, we know that he has also been threatened by the gangs, and so we are wondering whether his disappearance is gang related. He has come to school on several occasions with cuts and bruises from assaults and we have had to apply first aid and give him a place to hide on more than one occasion. He has been under constant pressure from the gangs because it is safer for them to use children to front their criminal activities. If the police turn up in the course of a criminal enterprise, with a child fronting the enterprise, it will then be the child who is committing the offence. The onlooking gang members then appear to be merely ‘innocent’ bystanders. This young man has tried to avoid being sucked into the world of criminality and he periodically leaves the camp to hide in local fields. But his attempts to avoid the gangs have led to constant threats and actual violence from the gangs. He has now disappeared and one of the awful scenarios we are contemplating is that his disappearance could be due to his finally haven fallen victim to the gangs.
This disappearance has hit us particularly hard as it concerns one of the children who we see so regularly. But the reality in the cold light of day, is that it is just another one of the very many disappearances which we have been seeing for a long time now. We dearly hope that he is safe. We hope equally fervently that next week will bring some more news so that we can at least put our minds at rest.