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In camps or ‘jungles’, several thousand asylum seekers and migrants, people from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan are living in makeshift camps or in the streets in Calais.
Christophe Vander Eecken/UNHCR
Water & Sanitation

France Must Give Migrants in Calais Access to Clean Water and Toilets, UN Says

Amid growing calls for aid, the United Nations is urging France to provide safe drinking water and sanitation for migrants living in camps in the city of Calais and along the Northern French coast.

Migrants situated in what is colloquially called the “Calais Jungle” — a temporary refugee town — are living without adequate shelter, access to drinking water, and washing facilities, the UN News Centre reported. Local authorities have been refusing to implement concrete measures of improvement for the migrants based in these camps because they don't want to see them become permanent. In the vacuum, volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have stepped up to provide transportation to facilities for bathroom use.

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“It is worrying that approximately 700 migrants in Calais and the greater area of Calais temporarily rely on only 10 portable lavatories and water from 10 taps,” Leo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, said in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

After the camps were dismantled in November 2016, migrants still gathered in the area and have been living in makeshift shelters. Earlier this year, the mayor of Calais had banned the distribution of meals to migrants to prevent new camps from being set up, the Telegraph reported.

Local authorities have also been operating a “zero tolerance” policy, gathering and relocating migrants to official centers elsewhere in France for accommodations. The Human Rights Watch reported that asylum seekers and migrants suffered abuse from police, who allegedly used pepper spray on adults and children while asleep.

“It is reprehensible for police to use pepper spray on children and adults who are asleep or peacefully going about their day,” Bénédicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch’s France director, told HRW. “When police destroy or take migrants’ blankets, shoes, or food, they demean their profession as well as harm people whose rights they’ve sworn to uphold.”

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The Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court in France, said in a statement the living conditions “reveal a failure by the public authorities that has exposed the people to inhuman or degrading treatment,” reported the Guardian News.  

“These shortcomings are a serious and unlawful infringement on a fundamental freedom,” the court said.

Tensions in the European Union surrounding refugees have been rising in recent years. Germany, for example, has had trouble accepting 890,000 asylum seekers and migrants from 2015, and wanted its EU partners to accept mandatory quotas, to spread migrants across the region. France, for its part, has recently accepted 2,091 asylum seekers relocating from Greece and 231 from Italy, according to Human Rights Watch. Italy had also complained of insufficient help from other EU countries in managing the influx of migrants arriving on its southern shore.

About 40% of the more than two million seeking Asylum in Europe have been told they could stay, while the others have returned home or left Europe. The Pew Research Center estimates that some refugees are still in legal limbo, leaving them waiting in government-operated facilities, where they have varying access to food and medical care.

Nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are now displaced from their homes, according to the Pew Research Center.  Displacement levels are higher in some regions of the world than others. For example, more than 1 in 20 people living in the Middle East are displaced. Meanwhile, 1 in 60 people living in Africa are displaced.

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