Alex Holmes has just returned to Scotland after another trip to Calais, where he volunteers at the Catholic Worker House and he updates us in this week's blog on the everyday desperate reality for those he encounters.
9.25am: La Pass, the medical drop in centre, is still closed. Nebiyou’s ripped hand, heavily bandaged, rests limply in a sling. He spent two weeks in a specialist surgical unit in Lille after badly cutting his hand on razor wire whilst trying to run from the CRS, the French riot police. One finger was sliced in two lengthwise.
We wait patiently at the locked door.
Awate arrives. He presses his scarf to his lips. There’s blood on his white hoodie and the sleeves of his denim coat. There’s livid raw skin close to his left eye.
“The CRS hit me with an electric baton on my face, head and back,” he explains.
Osman, another Eritrean, joins us outside the door, pink fresh skin on his dark face.
“I’m ok now,” he reassures me.
I ask if they’ve seen Nahom, and describe the boy with the broken teeth. They haven’t.
9.30am: the sullen security guard unlocks the door. Nebiyou checks in at the desk. Awate slumps into a waiting room chair, leaning forward, head in his hands. Osman has disappeared. We wait in the plastic and chrome silence.
Beside the stadium, a group of young Eritreans: amongst them, Mebrahtu, his hand no longer bandaged. The scar on the ball of his thumb, a distant bird in flight, is punctuated by twelve neat stitch marks. A CRS officer had stamped on his hand, which was split open by a buried spike.
“It’s the same here as in Eritrea,” he says. “I’d as well be back home.” His smile belies a deep suffering.
There’s music, the surprising sound of Nashville in Calais: “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking from You, just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do.”
“My friend in Holland told me about this song,” Yoel explains. “One day I will get to UK.”
Ever-smiling Yoel. It’s two years since I first met him in Calais. With a haircut he looks much younger.
They’ve not seen Nahom. I move on.
A solitary hooded figure slowly paces the back road in the shadow of the industrial zone. At last, Nahom. He’s lost in the Orthodox chants, mezmurs, on his phone. Seeing me, he pulls out his earphones and grins broadly, baring his broken teeth. Discharged from hospital after falling from a lorry and losing his front teeth, he had stayed in the Catholic Worker house for a few days before suddenly vanishing.
His family home was destroyed in the war with Ethiopia. He spent three years in harsh military conscription before running away to see his family, before escaping to Ethiopia. He showed me burn marks on his feet from when he was held to ransom and tortured in Libya. Finally he reached the UK but his asylum application was refused. Under the Dublin Regulation, he was deported to Italy because he’d been fingerprinted there. Tired and hungry on the streets of Naples, he accepted the offer of bread and water only to pass out, waking to find his jacket and boots stolen.
After a big embrace and checking he is ok, we talk football, and mutual friends now in the UK. I tell him he is welcome in the house anytime.
“I will come, yes.”
Silent for a moment, perhaps registering my concern, he reassures me, “I am ok because I have God.” We part with another embrace.
Earphoned once more, he continues his lone path.