Calais migrant camp 'on brink of collapse'

The makeshift migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais, France, where up to 6,000 migrants live in crude shelters made of wood and salvaged material which offer little protection from the creeping cold. Volunteer groups fear that conditions in the cam
The makeshift migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais, France, where up to 6,000 migrants live in crude shelters made of wood and salvaged material which offer little protection from the creeping cold. Volunteer groups fear that conditions in the camp will continue to deteriorate.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

CALAIS • Winter is coming to France's port town of Calais, raising fears among aid groups about worsening conditions for the thousands of migrants living in a makeshift camp.

Night-time temperatures have dropped to around 5 deg C in the "New Jungle" camp, located next to the Calais ring road.

Migrants are trying to reinforce crude shelters made of wood and salvaged material, which provide little insulation against the creeping cold.

The changing weather and uncertainty surrounding a new crisis centre announced by the government this summer have alarmed humanitarian organisations.

"We are buffeted by the wind, the rain and the cold. It's even worse than the previous 'jungles'," said Mr Francois Guennoc, a volunteer with aid group L'Auberge des Migrants.

While illegal crossings to Britain have slowed amid tighter security since September, migrants and refugees have continued flocking to the "New Jungle". It houses an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people, up from 2,500 in early June.

"We are on the brink of collapse," said Mr Jean-Francois Corty, head of the French division of Doctors Without Borders. Another volunteer, from the Salam charity organisation who preferred to stay anonymous, went so far as to invoke a "concentration camp".

About 630,000 migrants have entered Europe illegally since the beginning of the year and Calais is, for some, the last hurdle before reaching Britain, their dream destination.

Increasing asylum applications have led to more and more makeshift camps popping up around France. A new crisis centre, announced by the government in August, is slated to offer more permanent housing to 1,500 people. But it has brought more questions than answers.

The site will reportedly be accessible via secure entry where each person will have to present a resident's badge , explained Mr Guillaume Alexandre, director of Vie Active, which is overseeing construction, although he added that the plan is not finalised, due to fears that the badges could be stolen.

There are due to be 125 structures by the end of the year, housing 12 people each in a gated camp, but organisations agree that a centre that houses 1,500 people is not enough.

"We are in complete darkness," said Mr Christian Salome, president of L'Auberge des Migrants. "What are we supposed to do with the other two-thirds? There will be excessive overcrowding so tensions are sure to intensify."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Calais migrant camp 'on brink of collapse''. Print Edition | Subscribe