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Faces of Resilience : Refugees seeking a new beginning

Janine Wiedel | France

Washing a white shirt ready for tomorrows prayers in The Calais Jungles' hand built Orthodox Ethiopian and Eritrean Church. A makeshift canvas clad structure with "a roof held up with prayers and duct tape.

The men in the background are about to threaten to take over his shelter home.

I took these portraits in 2016 in two refugee camps of northern France:  'The Jungle' in Calais and Grande-Synthe in Dunkirk.  Everyone I met had fled violence, oppression, torture or war in their home countries, leaving their lives behind.  No one chooses to be a refugee. These men, women and children had endured life-threatening journeys across rough waters and walked through unwelcoming countries to reach this far in hope of either building new lives in France or traveling on to the UK. Instead, they were trapped in overflowing camps where they were treated as undesirables, and once again deprived of basic human rights.

I was struck by the courage, resilience and dignity manifest in their faces as they managed to create communities in the midst of the camps’ violence and chaos, attending to the daily tasks of life. This included building schools, shops, churches and mosques. A temporary refuge that many citizens and the French authorities chose to ignore and dismantle rather than to acknowledge the refugees as individuals deserving of acceptance and equal rights.

These portraits formed part of a long term project “In Transit”, which I  undertook with fellow photographer Jacky Chapman.  We spent 6 month photographing in the Refugee Camps of Northern France. Both the Calais Jungle and The Grande Synthe Refugee Camp have now been destroyed. In October 2016, the French authorities evicted and razed the Calais Jungle to the ground and in June 2017 The Grande Synth had a mysterious fire which made it uninhabitable.

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