An independent report of the Calais migrant camps, the first of its kind, has confirmed the perilous conditions facing the occupants, which fail to meet the standards recommended by global authorities.
The preliminary findings of the University of Birmingham report, supported by Doctors of the World (Médicins du Monde) and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), outline the reality facing the men, women and children in the Calais camps.
The team of researchers found that the conditions in the informal refugee camp are significantly contributing to ill-health and injury.
Furthermore, the shortcomings in shelter, food and water safety, personal hygiene, sanitation and security were identified as being likely to have detrimental long-term health consequences for the camp’s residents over their lifecourse.
Dr Surindar Dhesi explained: ‘The environmental health conditions in the camp are significant and detrimental to the health of the residents. Investment in infrastructure including toilets, handwashing facilities, and stable and secure accommodation is urgently needed as the winter approaches.'
Leigh Daynes, Executive Director of Doctors of the World, stated “This study exposes the awful truth about the Calais refugee crisis: that it is a humanitarian emergency of the first order in one of the world’s most thriving nations. It confirms that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the dreadful humanitarian disaster on our doorstep.”
The report states that conditions in the camp do not meet standards recommended by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), World Health Organisation (WHO) or the Sphere project.
Dr Arshad Isakjee, fellow researcher explained, “It is our assessment that the situation in Calais amounts to a humanitarian crisis and requires far greater resource than has been provided to date by state agencies to protect migrants in the camp.”
Selected findings from the report include:
- Migrant residents of the camp routinely report hunger as they are only provided one meal a day. Food kept by migrants cannot be prepared or stored safely in the camp. Pathogenic bacteria are present at infective doses in food and this is likely to be causing the vomiting and diarrhoea suffered by camp residents.
- Several inappropriate water storage containers, some previously used for corrosive chemical storage and which cannot be effectively cleaned, have levels of bacteria above permitted EU safety standards.
- The number of usable toilets (no more than 40) is extremely low for a population of up to 3000, and far below any minimum standards for refugee camps. There is estimated to be one toilet per 75 residents of the camp. The UNHCR recommend a minimum of one per 20 people. Resultant use of outdoor spaces for toileting presents further health hazards. The few available toilets are not equipped with hand washing facilities.
- The lack of ability to wash and dry bedding and clothes is preventing the effective treatment of scabies, bedbugs and lice.
- Physical injuries within the camp as a result of attempted border crossings, dangerous living conditions, and alleged physical abuse are common. There are consistent reports by migrants and medical practitioners that injured migrants are receiving insufficient treatment at French medical facilities.
- Many migrants and refugees are suffering with mental health issues; insufficient provision exists for psychological trauma and other mental health conditions to be assessed and treated adequately.
- Living spaces have condensation and are cold at night and prone to overheating during sunlight hours. Many informal living quarters examined are fragile and leak rainwater, soaking bedding and clothes.
- Tents and structures used for sleeping are frequently overcrowded, which facilitates the spread of communicable diseases, pests such as lice, and parasites. Scabies is reported by migrants and is considered a significant problem by medical professionals working in the camp.
- Extremely high levels of particulates associated with open fires used for heating and cooking were found in the air within the camp and are a risk factor for respiratory infections, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- There are reports of migrants being physically assaulted by police officers in Calais and also by other groups along the camp periphery at night.
Leigh Daynes added, “Refugees are hungry and distressed, and they live in diabolical conditions. Yet internationally agreed standards for the provision of aid and protection in refugee situations are nowhere to be found in Calais. That is a blight on the reputation of European States, who should and can do better, as they often do in refugee crises elsewhere.”
Dr Thom Davies, fellow author of the study, concluded, “The solutions to the public health problems found in the camp can only be comprehensively resolved through political agreements between EU member states on formal housing and resettlement of asylum seekers. Only a broad solution on this scale can ensure the long-term health and security of residents of the camp.”