People in Calais and Dunkirk may die due to lack of shelter and sanitation, NGOs tell government officials
Twelve organisations working with asylum seekers in northern France have warned French government officials of a “catastrophic situation” as large numbers of people try to survive in insanitary conditions while they wait for a change in the weather so they can try to cross the Channel to the UK.
The warning is contained in a letter to French government officials signed by NGOs including L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais Food Collective, Médecins du Monde Nord Littoral, Utopia 56 and Le Secours Catholique délégation du Pas de Calais.
There have been crossings on only two days since 8 November due to poor weather conditions so more and more asylum seekers are waiting in northern France. Almost 1,000 people crossed in 19 boats on 12 and 16 November.
Axel Gaudinat of Utopia 56 warned that asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk were at risk of death because living conditions had never been as dire and dangerous as they are now.
He told the Guardian that the combination of unprecedented numbers in northern France at the moment – about 2,000 in Calais and 1,500 in Dunkirk – along with the stormy weather and failure of the French government to provide enough basic shelter for lone children, pregnant women and families was a disaster waiting to happen.
He said conditions were so bad that some people could die in France before trying to make the dangerous journey across the Channel.
“We are lucky nobody has died yet during the storms and bad weather when living conditions have been particularly bad,” he said. “But we are raising the alarm because there will be a drama, a really tragic event if nothing is done.”
In previous winters local government officials have provided emergency shelter for families and lone children. But this winter, shelter has not been available for everyone and many have been forced to sleep in the open air in freezing and muddy conditions.
The letter says the organisations are writing to local government officials “concerning the catastrophic situation of people exiled in Calais”. It adds that hundreds of people are being denied access to water, showers and food distribution while police are continuing with expulsions from makeshift places of shelter.
“There is currently an emergency and we ask you … to find solutions so that the physical security, dignity and fundamental rights of exiled people are respected,” the letter says.
It adds: “No state solution has been proposed. The right to ‘have a roof over your head’ recognised by the international convention on rights of the child is once again violated with complete impunity.”
Along with the lack of shelter, many people living outside in “saturated” conditions are going hungry because NGOs that provide meals are running out of basics such as tea, coffee and bread, and are resorting to using canal water because they are not getting access to fresh water.
“The current period constitutes a peak in the ignominy of the survival conditions of people exiled in Calais,” the letter concludes.
Gaudinat said: “The situation is getting worse and worse and we don’t have any solutions. Before we were fighting to get people shelter. Now we’re fighting just to get them water. There is so much humanitarian need but France is doing less than before. We are completely desperate, tired and sad.
“The French state is leaving people outside and putting all their efforts into repression. People fled their countries for good reason and we need to find safe and legal routes for those who want to travel to UK.”
France’s ministry of the interior has been approached for comment.
Source: The Guardian