The current situation in Northern France

CamCRAG committee member Ed Sexton has been working in Northern France recently to support the refugee groups there. He has sent this blog explaining the current situation following the closure of The Jungle camp in Calais last year.

The Calais refugee camp known as ‘The Jungle’ may have gone, but the refugees have not. Thankfully neither have the various volunteer-run organisations, such as L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees and Utopia56. CamCRAG, with your help, continues to support their efforts.

Refugee Community Kitchen continues to supply food to the MSF camp in Dunkirk and various smaller ‘unofficial’ camps in northern France, while Help Refugees distribute clothing and other aid from their warehouse in Calais. There are also many refugees sleeping rough in the Calais area, who both organisations assist as and when they can. So volunteers are still needed, to prepare food and sort aid for distribution, and your donations are still very much appreciated – you can see a list of the latest needs here:

In Paris there is now an official processing camp, opened in November in the northern 18th arrondissement, funded by the Mayor’s office and run by Emmaus with assistance from Utopia56. Conditions are good, with warm rooms, decent food, and access to showers, laundry and medical facilities. However each room houses four persons, making it unsuitable for women and children, and the 800 places are not sufficient for the numbers turning up – every day refugees are turned away and end up sleeping rough on the surrounding streets, or in one of several ‘mini-jungles’ of tarpaulin shacks that are hidden behind walls on nearby wastelands.

Furthermore refugees are required to give fingerprints to gain access, and under the Dublin arrangements if they are already registered in another EU country (usually Greece or Italy) they are likely to be sent back. Refugees can only stay a maximum of ten days: If they apply for asylum in this time they are transferred to refugee centres known as CAOs around France, otherwise they are asked to leave.

Consequently hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees are living in and around the outskirts of Paris, and overnight temperatures are now regularly falling below freezing. If their numbers become too great, or their encampments too permanent, they are moved on. Over the last eighteen months Paris police have cleared an estimated 22,000 migrants from tent cities on pavements and under bridges. Utopia56 and Paris Refugee Ground Support (PRGS) provide nightly aid distributions, seeking out refugees living rough and providing them with warm clothes, sleeping bags and blankets. Both organisations are supported by Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Care4Calais and numerous others – so if your donations cannot be used in Calais or Dunkirk, rest assured they will be sent onto people in need in elsewhere. Meanwhile Cuisine des Migrants roam the streets of Paris at night giving out hot meals to as many refugees as they can.

CamCRAG will continue to send donations, funds and volunteers to assist these groups in their very difficult work. We are also in discussions with CalAid and Help Refugees about how best to support efforts in Greece, where plummeting winter temperatures are putting lives at risk in the numerous camps on the islands and northern mountainous areas. None of this would be possible without the incredible generosity and support of you, the people of the Cambridge region – thank you. Together we really can make a difference.

More on Paris in this update from Rachel Mantell:
Cuisine des migrants: