In the space of a few days, there is an attack in Stockholm and the Dunkirk refugee camp [where Nannie worked as a volunteer for several months last year] burns to the ground. Upon hearing about the truck driving into pedestrians in the heart of Sweden's capital, my first thought is that I wish I felt more shocked. It scared me how quickly I came to accept what had happened. At 10pm on Monday night, I heard about the fire in Dunkirk refugee camp, and it stings in my heart and refuses to sink in. People are people and tragedy is tragedy, but some hurt more than others.
On Friday afternoon, my phone started vibrating with continuous breaking news alerts from Swedish media outlets. Another truck. This time in the capital of my homeland. My flatmate and I turn on the national Swedish broadcasting channel, and watch and re-watch as the same few pieces of information and videos are shown and shared over and over. There have been reports of shootings in various places around the city, but no one can confirm anything. The information about the shootings is later shown to have been false. We keep watching, upset with ourselves for not being more outraged.
After a few hours, news articles start becoming more nuanced and coherent. Along with a live newsfeed, articles are written about what to think about when discussing the attack on social media. About the risk of speculating and circulating rumours before anything has been confirmed and anyone has been arrested. We learn that rumours about shootings may be deliberate (but in this case most likely weren’t) in order to disperse the resources of the police. There are several articles about how to discuss the attack with children. How do you tell your child that a truck has fatally injured people on a street that you probably pass every time you are in Stockholm? How do you explain to a child that they are safe, when an 11-year-old schoolgirl died?
And then: about 300 children became homeless in Dunkirk. On Monday evening, my flatmate was sent a video and a message by a fellow former volunteer who is now in the US – together we learnt from afar that the camp was burning. The first video showed a row of shelters on one side of the camp burning. As we found more videos posted by friends in the camp, we followed the fire as it grew. There is one video of a group of people – I am uncertain whether I know them – sitting in front of the building that used to be the Dunkirk children’s centre, watching as the playground burns. The mayor has stated that the camp cannot be rebuilt.
For the first hour, friends don’t reply to messages. Most likely they are being evacuated. As midnight approaches, friends send videos, voice messages, emojis of sad faces, and let us know that they are not in the camp. In one voice message, a friend tells me, 'Everything is not ok. Camp I think is finish.' When I ask if they know where they are sleeping tonight, they don’t know. Each person I speak to tells me not to worry about them or be sad for them. One friend messages me to say, 'Please forgive me you are worry.' He is apologising for me feeling worried because he lived in a refugee camp that has been burnt to the ground.
In the morning I learn that individuals and families from the camp had been evacuated to nearby gymnasiums. An Al Jazeera video pans over the crowded spaces, and I recognise at least two people. A friend says that it was very difficult to sleep because there were so many people and lots of noise. Everyone is uncertain about what will happen next. Officials state on Tuesday that 600 people are missing.
An hour-long video from Tuesday morning shows a dubious French journalist walking through the desolate camp. There is still smoke rising from the ashes of what used to be homes. The steel skeleton of a community kitchen stands naked. A metal container beside the kitchen, used for food distribution, still has a fire raging inside it. A few shelters are intact, and the man who I hope is not a journalist tramples into them and comments on the dishes they have left behind. Later, the video shows what used to be the children’s centre. The playground is burnt, yet standing, but the building for children under the age of seven has been reduced to rubble.
Individuals who have been forced to flee their homeland have yet again been forced away from their homes. Although everyone in the camp was there for the sole reason of arriving elsewhere, each family and individual in the camp has now lost yet another home. For some, the few possessions and valuables they had brought with them from Kurdistan or Afghanistan or elsewhere, and which had endured boat journeys across the Mediterranean and treks across the Balkans, have now been destroyed. One Iraqi man tells of how he has lost all his documents, and worries about how he will now be able to prove to authorities who he is.
After the Stockholm attack, media rightly highlighted the importance of discussing the event with children. In Dunkirk, there has always been little support for children, and there is even less after the fire. Volunteers from the children’s centre are going out to where the children are staying in gymnasiums, but there is little space for activities and the organisation has lost all toys and materials. The centre used to provide a safe space for children to play and escape the anxieties of the camp. Volunteers are now trying to do this job in halls filled with hundreds of people steeped in worry.
There is always a need for money and resources, and it is never enough. Food, shelter and heating will always be prioritised over specific initiatives addressing the psychological welfare of children. The 300 children from the camp need to play, talk and reflect about what is happening in their surroundings and about what is happening to them, and they need this now more than ever.