Independent report into conditions in Calais migrant camps outlines failure to meet recommended standards

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.

Read the full report (PDF 3.74MB)

The team of researchers found that the conditions in the informal refugee camp are significantly contributing to ill-health and injury.

By Thom Davies - a view of one part of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais home to around 3000 refugees and migrants

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.”