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The Calais “Jungle” Needs Help!


By Emmanuelle Schopp

I am Emmanuelle and I’m the French language assistant at Willamette this year. For my first contribution to the WWN, I would like to tell you a bit more about my country, France, and what is currently happening there. I have thus decided to talk about the refugees’ terrible living conditions in the Calais “Jungle,” in France, as well as the way the French government and several humanitarian organizations (NGOs) are dealing with it.

Before going into too much detail, I would like to briefly explain what the Calais “Jungle” is. The Calais “Jungle” is a nickname given to a migrant encampment in the vicinity of Calais (a city in the north of France) where migrants live while they attempt to enter the United Kingdom. The “Jungle” has no fixed location since migrants usually set up camp on unoccupied land and move to new locations when camps are closed down by the French authorities, while others illegally occupy abandoned buildings. The story of the “Jungle” actually started in 1999 when a Red Cross Reception center, called Sangatte, was opened near the port of Calais. The center became rapidly overcrowded and the “Jungle” was then established in the woods around the Port after Sangatte was closed in November 2002. Despite several attempts by the French government to dismantle the camp, it never really disappeared and new camps have since been established to replace the old ones. Today, the camp is actually called “The New Jungle” and has about 6,000 refugees compared to about 2,500 at the start of June.

As you may already know, this incredible increase in the number of refugees in the Jungle is the result of what we call the “European refugee crisis.” This refers to the many waves of migrants from the Middle East fleeing their warring countries war and coming to Europe in the hope of finding better living conditions. Unfortunately, the conditions in which they live in the Calais jungle are absolutely deplorable – hence my desire to talk about it and make people aware of the current situation.

The article that I will summarize below, “Aid groups try to force France to act over Calais,” was published on October 26th in The Local, an English-language digital news publisher with a local edition in France.

The article’s main point is about the unprecedented action taken by aid groups (such as Médecins du Monde, le Secours Catholique, la Croix Rouge, etc.) of putting the French government to court to force them to take action concerning the deplorable living conditions of the refugees in the Calais Jungle. From the testimonies of people living and working in the camp and from what we can see in the photos, life in the Calais jungle seems quite miserable. Migrants live in “shanty-town like huts and flimsy tents,” their shelters are made of wood and salvaged materials, they live in cold, humid, damp, smelly, dirty conditions, and, with winter coming, the situation could become even worse.

These living conditions have been described by many NGOs as worse than a refugee camp you would see in a war zone, hence their call to the French government to take responsibility for and to provide the necessary help to these populations. These organizations claim that it is not only a question of money (because of course helping refugees by providing food, clothes, and materials requires money), but also a political decision. As a developed and rather privileged country, France has a duty to help these people who have already suffered enough during the journey from their country to Europe – France cannot just ignore them and pretend there is nothing more we can do about it when the lives of so many people are in danger.

Although the French government has recently announced that they will provide more tents for the refugees and that they will double the capacity at an accommodation center for women and children, the organizations don’t consider these measures to be enough. These organizations believe that France is not putting as many efforts into helping the refugees as countries like Germany or Sweden have done in the recent weeks. Consequently, the best way that these aid groups found to make the government take emergency measures in Calais was to lodge a complaint with court. One of the main points of their complaint was that “the fundamental rights of those living in the squalid camp are being violated,” mentioning, for instance, the risk of flooding, fire, explosion, sexual abuse, severe malnutrition, and, more generally, the “inhumane and degrading conditions” of the refugees.

I think it is important to talk about this issue because it is not acceptable to let people live in such terrible conditions in a developed country like France, which has the means and the resources to do something about it. The government should take action to improve the living conditions in the camp – it’s a question of morality, dignity, and mutual help. Immigrants left their countries because they had to: their countries have been devastated by war, their villages and houses have been destroyed, and they ended up not having enough food to eat. They did not leave their countries by choice, but because they had to. They fled in the hope of finding somewhere else to live, a place where they would be able to improve their living conditions, and arriving in the Calais jungle in France must have been a great surprise and disappointment for them.

Of course, I am not saying that this is an issue that can be solved easily and rapidly, but improvements can and need to be made. Also, I think that the refugees’ crisis is not just a European issue that has to be dealt with by European countries only. I do believe that this is a world crisis that requires the attention of the whole world. These people flee their countries because they’re at war, but many countries are involved in the wars taking place in the Middle East, and the United States is one of them. As such, I think it is important for Americans to be aware of the many consequences of the war – such as the thousands of people fleeing their countries in the Middle East to seek refuge in Europe. European countries are overwhelmed by the large waves of immigrants arriving every day and they need help from other countries outside the EU. I think the United States should be more involved in this crisis and help Europe, both financially and humanitarianly, in order to offer better living conditions to these populations.

Jungle de Calais : des ONG veulent contraindre l’Etat à prendre des mesures d’urgence

/!\Please note: the statement made in these articles do not reflect the view of Willamette University or the countries of the respective contributors./!\

If you want to read more from Emmanuelle, check out her French blog!

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