Teargas, cold, no toilets: plight of refugees in Calais revealed

The woods around Calais and Dunkirk have once again become home to more than 1,000 refugees and migrants living in dire conditions without access to toilets, running water, showers or shelter.

Police regularly confiscate sleeping bags, bedding and possessions, and refugees complain that CS spray is often used during early morning raids on people sleeping. Reports of police harassment of refugees have risen as officials from both towns attempt, without success, to stop refugees from settling in the area.

But some kind of new camp now looks inevitable in Calais after a court ruled that the city government must provide showers and water supplies for the rapidly rising population of asylum seekers, who are mostly teenagers from Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many of them are travelling alone, some as young as 12.

The water supplies were due to be installed by Friday, although the local administration would provide no details of how many were to be installed or where.

Because Calais police remove tents immediately, hundreds of refugees are sleeping in the open on wasteland behind an industrial zone near the port. Some camp on a heap of asphalt, others in the woods, where the area is littered with abandoned clothes and large quantities of human excrement. Even in August, the weather in northern France is stormy and cold. Someone has written “Refugees Welcome” on a nearby wall, but it does not feel a welcoming place.

Ismail Roble, a biology teacher from Ethiopia, from the Oromo minority group, has been in Calais for eight months and is hoping to join family in the UK. He said police had taken his bedding again early that morning. “I can’t count how many times it has happened. They spray your eyes when you are asleep,” he said as he queued for food. “It’s very stressful living in these forests. We have no shelter, no hygiene, no sanitation, no water. It’s very cold at night. The French have given us nothing.”

In Dunkirk, refugees complain of a much more aggressive approach by local police, who arrive most weeks urging people sleeping in the woods to move on and destroying tents.

Amal Muhammed, an Iraqi woman, is travelling with her Iranian husband, Sahid Rebaz, their two children, Deia, 10, and Yousuf, three, and her severely disabled younger brother, Sardam Muhammed, 22, who is unable walk or speak. She said police had slashed their tent while they were sheltering in a clearing in the woods on Monday. She showed cuts in the fabric of the tent, which they have now abandoned.

“They came when we were asleep and shouted ‘Get up, get up!’ The children were frightened. I was frightened,” she said. The family hope to make it somehow to the UK, where they believe they will have better job opportunities, but they appeared to have no understanding of border policy. “If they don’t let us cross, will they just let my brother and the children in?” Muhammed asked.



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