Several hundred migrants and asylum seekers in the French port city of Calais are living in unsanitary conditions with scant access to drinking water, food and showers, several rights groups warned on Tuesday.
Human rights groups warned in a letter to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin that hundreds of people in Calais and its surroundings “have no more access to drinking water, to showers, to food”.
The letter came a week and a half after Darmanin visited the northern city to announce a coordinated Franco-British crackdown on human traffickers exploiting people trying to reach Britain after fleeing conflict and hardship in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Eight hundred people were evacuated from camps in an industrial zone prior to Darmanin’s visit, including 519 who were taken to temporary housing centres, said the letter signed by Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and French charities Doctors of the World, Secours Catholique and La Cimade.
Less than two weeks later, most are back on the street and facing further hardship due to “the halting of the main municipal food distribution and shower services” and to drinking water in the industrial zone being “inaccessible, due to police presence” to prevent camps from reforming, according to the NGOs.
State says food, showers available
State officials in the Pas-de-Calais administrative department said two of three food distribution services and some shower services were still functioning.
“Two sites of meal distribution function and have the capacity to distribute 1,000 meals per day,” state prefect Fabien Sudry told AFP Agency. “We also have shuttles bringing people to showers, and demand has been consistent for several weeks with about 150 showers per day.”
The prefect said the camp in the industrial zone was dismantled because it “was becoming a new shantytown”, reminiscent of the “Jungle” refugee camp that was home to thousands of exiles in Calais before it was dismantled in 2016.
“Twice per week, we provide access to rooms in housing centres” and have already “taken into charge 5,800” people since August 2017, Sudry said.
Time to ‘change the paradigm’
Calais, like the nearby port town of Dunkirk, has been a gathering point for migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Britain since the 1990s.
“The experience of the past 30 years shows that a response consisting of brutal daily police evictions provides no solution and only results in more suffering,” read the letter, which also told Darminin “what’s needed today is to change the paradigm.”
The NGOs also objected to the agenda for Darmanin’s visit on 12 July, days after he was named interior minister.
“Like your predecessors, you came to Calais right after your appointment,” the letter read. “You met only a part of the players: the security forces, the state and city services, the associations operating the state programmes, the British authorities operating on French territory.
“You chose to meet neither with the exiles surviving in unnameable conditions nor the local groups working with them for years on end,” the groups deplored. “You did not seek to understand what brought them to this part of the world.”