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Art Refuge in Calais
8th September 2015
boat journey1

Jess Linton explains why Art Refuge UK are setting up a pilot project with refugees in Calais

Art Refuge UK is planning to undertake a two month art therapy pilot project starting later this month, in response to the severe and diverse psychosocial needs of the refugees living in the camp known as the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, northern France, just the other side of the English Channel from Dover. 

We want to act now at this moment in time and to use our valuable experience and skills to do so. Since 2006, Art Refuge UK has specialised in working with displaced people in India, Nepal and the UK, and is uniquely well placed to respond to the complex needs of people in the Calais camp. The team of registered art therapists bring knowledge and experience of working with refugees in countries across the world and other displaced individuals, such as their immediate work with communities in Nepal after the recent devastating earthquakes.

Art therapy within the camp

Throughout August, Art Refuge UK art therapist Naomi Press worked in the camp for Medecins du Monde and, with the support of their psychologist, started to trial an art therapy space in their new psychosocial support tent.

Psychosocial support emphasises the importance for an individual’s wellbeing of connections with other individuals, groups and communities, particularly the interaction between people; and it focuses on ways in which individuals and communities can become stronger and more resilient. As the extremity of the situation continues to increase, the desperate need for specialist psychosocial support has been identified by Medecins du Monde, the only NGO operating formally in the camp. 

Art Refuge UK’s art therapy space was rapidly full to capacity with men and teenagers in particular seeking out a safe space within which to sit alone and with others, engage in art-making and begin to process some of their experiences. Naomi’s specialist training enabled her to respond sensitively to individuals’ verbal and non-verbal communications, to recognise and respond appropriately to signs of trauma and other mental health issues, and to bear witness through their images, to people’s traumatic stories and testimonies.

The art-making space encouraged connections to be fostered between people, and human experience to be shared across different languages and cultures. Over this short time such a space already allowed a number of children and adults to start to recover some sense of meaning, agency, hope in an otherwise often helpless situation, and Naomi even witnessed small moments of joy (such as their kite making and flying over the art therapy tent!). 

Art Refuge UK are currently fundraising for this pilot project. To donate or find out more please visit:

Art Refuge UK will be presenting their work at a session during the Platforma Festival, 4-7 November

boat journey

“Boat journey” painted by a 14 year old unaccompanied asylum seeker from Egypt. H used the art therapy space in the Calais refugee camp to create this painting and talk with some of the men in the Medecins du Monde psychosocial tent. After this visit, he frequently returned to make images.