Fears refugees will die in ‘filthy’ camps as food supplies collapse

A charity is concerned refugees and migrants won’t survive in unsanitary makeshift camps in northern France as food and sanitation supplies collapse during lockdown.

There are around 1,500 migrants and refugees stuck in cramped unofficial camps in Calais and Dunkirk but the pandemic has ‘ripped a gaping hole’ in NGOs’ ability to help. There are now less than a dozen frontline volunteers remaining – down from at least 100.

Grassroots organisations have had to pack up and leave due to a lack of funds or safety fears. Travel bans have stopped volunteers getting to the camps, donations have dried up and the French Government has cut food rations by half to mostly a piece of bread and ham a day.

Care4Calais, which has launched an emergency appeal, has become one of the last organisations standing but the team of just nine volunteers is ‘stretched deadly thin’. Every few days they have the mammoth task of finding enough food for 400 group food packs.

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But with all their time and energy going into finding the next meal, it has become ‘impossible’ to source basic essentials, such as clothes and sanitary items.

Speaking from Calais, founder Clare Moseley, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Normally they’re in a bad situation with dirty clothes and shoes but it’s literally worse than it’s ever been. 

‘There are people who’ve been wearing the same clothes for eight to 10 weeks. They’re filthy and they’re itchy and they’re dirty. 

‘They’re coming to us and saying we really, really need clothes… We just can’t do everything’. 

‘Everything has just gone out the window, so it’s compounding other problems,’ added Clare, from Liverpool.

‘Rubbish isn’t getting collected as often, there are more rats, there are water shortages. It’s just a horrible place which is getting worse and worse’.

‘In all my years working in the refugee camps of Calais and Dunkirk, I’ve never felt more fearful for the people who live here, nor more powerless to help them,’ she added.

Coronavirus hit the camps ‘like a punch in the stomach’, said Clare, but added it is impossible to know exactly how many have been infected as officials have provided ‘next to no’ information.

Local authorities revealed nine refugees and migrants from the Calais and Dunkirk camps had been removed and isolated – but with no confirmation of whether they had tested positive. 

In the first week of April, authorities started to move people to pop-up accommodation centres but Clare said only around 200 were sent by bus that week. 

Since, then she said no one else has been picked up and fears they won’t survive not only because of the virus but also due to supplies being cut off.

Clare added: ‘I’m actually really worried they’re not going to put them in centres and if they don’t… Surely they can’t just leave them in these horrible conditions to see who dies and who doesn’t?’

She said those in the camps have to ‘make do with pitiful washing facilities’, with only two taps available for up to 700 people in one of the main sites, while they are being ‘squeezed into ever-tinier patches of ground’.

The charity founder is also concerned that police violence is ‘really escalating’.

‘We went to one of the smaller sites and their water comes in a barrel in the morning,’ she said. ‘They said it had been there an hour before the police came and kicked it over.’

Clare said her team are trying to create a ‘sense of normality’ for those in the camps without showing panic over the ‘dire’ situation. But the main thing she finds most heart-breaking, is she can’t comfort anyone when they feel helpless due to social distancing rules.

She said: ‘The people at the camp are our friends. We normally treat them so but because of this virus everything has changed. 

‘If somebody was upset, I’d hug them but now we have to stand a metre’s distance. We can’t do the human things, we can’t even shake their hands or smile at them because we’ve got a mask on.’

She said the lack of support during the pandemic has highlighted the fact refugees are often treated as less than others.

‘I don’t like the fact that they’re treated like they’re not as important as everybody else,’ she added. ‘I guess it’s like that all the time but it’s highlighted at the moment. It hurts.’ 

The charity founder said a ‘little goes a long way’ and just £10 will feed a family for days.

She added: ‘They are at their most vulnerable and Coronavirus is about to tip them over the edge.’

To make a monetary donation or post clothes and toiletries, visit the Care4Calais website.

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