Urgent need for aid in Calais as winter hits

The need for aid in Calais is urgent as refugees and migrants are facing the winter in shocking conditions, one year on after the closure of the Calais ‘Jungle’.

It has been just over a year since the Calais ‘Jungle’ was closed and demolished, subsequently forcing thousands of refugees and migrants to find sanctuary elsewhere. However, this has not stopped large numbers who have chosen to stay and new groups from making their way to Calais. As a cold winter has struck the region, there is a desperate need for aid to be sent due to the poor and squalid living conditions.

Quick Facts: Why are people still in Calais?

  • Calais is a French port city and is seen as the gateway to the UK.
  • Many migrants and refugees come to Calais in an effort to get to the other side of the Channel to start a new life.
  • They hide aboard lorries bound for the Eurotunnel and ferries crossing the Channel to the UK.

Current conditions in Calais

A recent report focusing one year on from the closure of the Calais ‘Jungle’ by charity Care4Calais, states conditions in Calais are ‘worse than they have ever been.’

After the closure of the ‘Jungle’ and with no camp for settlement, around 700 to 800 refugees and migrants in and around Calais are sleeping rough and without shelter. The report highlights how they have little protection from the elements, inadequate sanitation and very unstable food sources.

A migrant sleeps on the hard ground without shelter. A portrait example of why aid is needed in Calais.
Image courtesy of Futuro Berg 

Regarding the health of the people in Calais, local doctors report the migrants and refugees are suffering from ‘scabies, fungal infections and gum infections,’ which are at an all time high. There is even concern of trench foot cases, an infection common with soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War One. These conditions are a consequence of the squalor in which they are living.

The situation these people find themselves in has a devastating effect on their mental health, with anxiety and depression being a common ailment. The report illustrates how it is difficult for them to find the strength to survive from the cold weather, sleep deprivation and with fear running their lives.

Volunteer coordinator for Help Refugees/L’Auberge des Migrants, George Perry said, “People are unable to set up shelters or tents and sleeping materials and clothes are taken by police regularly.” He estimated that people are only able to keep their sleeping bags and blankets for about 5 days, until the authorities take them away.

Need for aid in the winter months

From November to March the average winter temperature in Calais never rises above 4 °C. Strong wind, torrential rain and snow are typical of the weather conditions the refugees and migrants face. Most people including children are distressingly sleeping outside without basic shelter and warm clothing. There is no doubt this winter will bring hardship and consequently, the demand for aid will keep rising.

With the police taking indispensable items from the migrants and refugees, it increases the pressure on charities to distribute aid more regularly, highlighting how quickly help is needed in Calais.

The most required items on the Help Refugees website are, ‘emergency blankets, poncho’s, hand-warmers, blankets, sleeping bags and thermals.’ Mr Perry said, “We rely completely on donations of money and materials, without which all these people will be lacking clothes, shoes, sleeping bags and food.”

Charity Care4Calais recently announced a new campaign ‘#Coat4Calais,’ aiming to provide each refugee with a warm coat. As a result of the brutal winter, the people in Calais are at great risk of catching hypothermia. The charity are asking people to donate their old coats, which will at least provide those in need with some warmth. Throughout this bitter season, clothing is essential in helping the refugees and migrants survive.

Collecting aid for Calais in the UK

 Many people in the UK have responded to the deteriorating environment in northern France by collecting aid themselves. All Saints Church in Truro, Cornwall is one example of the many organisations, which have set up an arrangement to send supplies to Calais.

All Saints Church is a drop off point for refugee donations. The church Reverend, Jeremy Putnam said,We have a clothes bank in our car park for donations and any equipment, medical supplies, camping equipment or anything like that, can be dropped off in the porch of the church during the day.” The collected aid is then transported to a larger warehouse where it is organised and sent via lorry to northern France.

All Saints Church organises many trips to France with charities already working there. “We have done 15 trips to Calais from this church since the beginning of the project in September 2015,” Rev. Putnam said.

Regarding the situation in Calais, Rev. Putnam simply describes it as “heart-breaking” and “frustrating”. He said, “Demolishing the camp doesn’t solve any problems it just creates problems.”

Migrants and refugees take the opportunity to charge their mobile phones from the limited supply of electricity.
Image courtesy of Futuro Berg

Volunteering in Calais

There is always a high demand for people to volunteer for charities in Calais throughout the year. Much help is needed, from sorting and transporting aid to distributing food on the ground to the migrants and refugees.

Volunteer, Shelley Meister has volunteered in Calais on three occasions. She explained, “Every trip is different and part of it is because the situation on the ground keeps changing. But, also because the volunteers keep changing.”

Ms Meister recently came back from volunteering with the organisation Refugee Community Kitchen. The group are the only source of hot food for people in Calais, cooking over 1.5 million nutritious meals since they were founded in December 2015. “It is quite amazing how it just keeps functioning, sort of like a big relay race… It’s fun, it’s hard-work but it’s rewarding because you feel like you’ve accomplished something,” she said.

During her volunteering Ms Meister has seen Calais both with and without the ‘Jungle.’ When going back this year, she witnessed how the situation had worsened since the camp was demolished. She had seen first-hand the dire consequences in which the people were now living. “There are less people now than there was when there was the Jungle. But, there is less support, less structure and less safety,” she said.

Ms Meister expressed deep concern for the people in Calais as winter delivers its full force, “I don’t know how they are going to get through the winter,” she said.

The on-going problem

Since the Calais ‘Jungle’ has become a thing of the past, media attention has dropped. Charities and organisations are working intensively to highlight the continuing problem in Calais. The lack of coverage definitely poses problems. Mr Perry said, “The number of volunteers are definitely lower. The media coverage of the situation in the UK and France is substantially less and a lot of people think the problem has been ‘solved’.”

It is clear there are on-going issues in Calais, which need to be resolved. More permanent solutions need to be delivered, to ensure these people are not continually residing in these awful conditions. “There is a lot that the British and French governments could be doing to help,” Mr Perry continued. He explained how appropriate “legal routes for asylum seekers” would help hugely.

It is important to emphasise the current situation in Calais with people still there, a year after the ‘Jungle’ was closed. There are many refugees and migrants who are in desperate need of help. With the cold winter months now upon us, aid needs to be delivered to Calais, to ensure the health and safety of these human beings does not get any worse than it already is.

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