CLOSING the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais has not begun to solve the problem of refugees and migrants who are desperate to get to Britain, the Archdeacon of France, the Ven. Meurig Williams, has said after a visit to the region.
French authorities took down the makeshift camp last year (News, 28 October), but many of those who lived in the Jungle now reside in a new camp at Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, in northern France.
Archdeacon Williams led a delegation of churchpeople from the diocese in Europe to visit the new migrant camp last week, and reported that the conditions were poor.
“The urge to get to Britain remains very strong, and, since the middle of December, migrants have continued returning to the areas around Calais and Dunkirk, where they are living in stressed and degrading conditions,” he said.
“What makes this situation especially distressing is that over 100 of those arriving in Calais since last December are unaccompanied minors, and that means there is always the potential for trafficking and other forms of abuse to go unchecked.”
At least 1700 migrants and refugees are living in containers in camps around the northern French ports and relying on charities for support. One Christian charity told Archdeacon Williams that they had been refused permission by the police to set up shower facilities for migrants.
The Grand-Synthe camp, which was initially built by the local mayor, and largely paid for by Médecins Sans Frontières, was opened exactly a year ago, and was heralded as the first camp in France which met the UN High Commissioner for Refugee’s standards.
But the destruction of the Jungle has led thousands of refugees — largely Iraqi Kurds — to pour into the Grand-Synthe camp.
French media have reported that up to five people now live in the wooden huts originally built to house two. Le Monde reported that at least 29 migrants suffered carbon-monoxide poisoning during the winter, because they were trying to use small stoves to heat the freezing sheds.
Some charities working in the camp have said that the overcrowding is leading to tensions and sometimes violence between migrants, which makes some parts of the site no-go areas for NGO volunteers.
Joining Archdeacon Williams in his visit was the Archdeacon of Maidstone, the Ven. Stephen Taylor. The diocese of Canterbury and the diocese in Europe are exploring a partnership, with USPG, to minister to residents of refugee camps in northern France.
“Our people in the Pas de Calais chaplaincy are really keen to be part of the network of support and care for these people,” Archdeacon Williams said, “and this is an opportunity for us to work with the diocese of Canterbury and USPG in collaborating with those agencies that are making a difference to the desperate conditions in which so many migrants are living.”