Migration: In Calais, inhuman treatment of exiles

They have fled Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea and are living now in Calais, at the site known as “the Jungle.” Others are in Paris in an abandoned high school. Pauline Busson, MSF head of mission, describes these exiles’ living conditions, as they try to find a way to reach England or seek a future in France.

How is the site where the refugees in Calais have settled?

It still looks like a shanty town. But changes are occurring and things are moving quickly. The number of refugees is increasing regularly. There are nearly 6,000 now, compared to 2,500 in March and we are seeing increasing numbers of women and children. They settled there in completely haphazard, random fashion. The site is inappropriate and lacks any amenities. It’s not for nothing that it’s called “the Jungle.” No preparations were made, for example, to manage waste – just four large dumpsters were brought in. Garbage accumulated over several weeks, piling up across the site and rotting. But there is some progress now. MSF’s logistics team took on the huge job of organizing waste collection. An MSF pick-up stops at the camp every day to collect the garbage and distribute garbage bags. Twenty tons of waste are gathered daily, with the aid of the municipal garbage services that empty the dumpsters.

What are the main needs?

Hygiene is a problem. Many more toilets and showers are needed. MSF set up 45 chemical toilets but additional showers are also required. This means providing a source of electricity to heat the water. Sinks must be installed because the water basins are too low. People are slogging through the mud, crouching on the ground to brush their teeth or wash their clothes.  In terms of medical needs, the clinic that MDM opened - where an MSF team is working - is operating smoothly. On average, 80 consultations are held every day. Dermatitis and scabies are common because hygiene conditions are poor and it is difficult to wash. We also see upper respiratory infections now that the weather is getting cold. The refugees also suffer sprains, fractures and wounds when they try to get into trucks or jump onto trains that pass through the tunnel under the Channel. 

How is the aid organized?  

We, MSF, have been present since early September. And there are a myriad of actors – both professional and informal. Associations have been created locally to address the migrant issue. One distributes hot meals. National aid associations have also come, along with many volunteers – French, English, anarchists, hippies and activists - some of whom are living in the camp. Residents of Calais also come to help notably on the weekends. Everyone brings food, clothing and various items that they distribute for free. These initiatives represent an effort to make the situation in the camp more bearable, while the public authorities have abandoned the exiles to their fate.

Is the situation similar in Paris, in an unused high school where exiles have taken shelter?

The Jean Quarré high school in the 19th arrondissement of Paris is a temporary housing site, tolerated by the Paris Mayor’s office. It is dirty, overcrowded and has poor watsan facilities.  Some 800 people – primarily young men from Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, North and West Africa – are living at the site, also under terrible conditions. Some have no choice but to be there, although they have obtained refugee status. They are desperate. Confronted by these inhuman conditions, a Sudanese man from Darfur, who has refugee status, told me that he was thinking of returning to the country where he is persecuted.