23 December 2015
British and French Red Cross volunteers have carried out a joint aid operation to help refugees and migrants in northern France.
Volunteers and staff from both national societies gave out around 1,300 bags of aid in five camps this week.
Conditions in the camps are squalid and people have little protection from the winter weather.
Huge humanitarian needs
The largest of the camps visited by Red Cross teams was in Grand-Synthe, not far from Dunkirk.
The camp’s population, estimated to be between 2,600 and 3,000 people, has increased significantly in recent weeks.
It is the biggest camp outside of Calais and is predominately inhabited by Kurdish people from Iraq and Syria, including a large number of families with children.
There is little in the way of facilities such as toilets, showers or clean water. And with the recent wet weather, conditions in the camp have become both unhygienic and dangerous.
Simon Lewis, head of UK emergency planning response, said: “We’ve seen the situation in Grande-Synthe deteriorate significantly recently.
“There are huge humanitarian needs among the families living there, which is why we launched this joint operation with our colleagues from the French Red Cross – the first of its kind.
“People are surviving off very little. There’s no electricity, heating or waste management. The lack of toilets and showers mean people are living in appalling and inhumane conditions.”
The Red Cross aid convoy set off from the UK at the weekend with 16 British Red Cross volunteers and staff.
Items given to refugees and migrants included: first aid kits, toiletries, hats, scarves, gloves, rain ponchos and information on how the Red Cross can help find missing family members.
The four smaller camps to receive aid were at Angres, Norrent-Fontes, Tatinghem and Steenvorde.
They are predominately inhabited by people from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sudan and Vietnam.
Political action is a must
Karl Pike, policy and advocacy manager, said: “Earlier this year both the UK and French governments agreed that vulnerable people living in camps should be protected, trafficking prevented and particularly that women and children be properly looked after. That isn't happening in these five camps and it needs to be.
“From speaking to families living in the camps, including many with young children, it is clear more must be done by both governments to improve conditions for people, starting with sustainable shelter to protect against the winter.
“We also need to see more done to provide safe and legal routes for refugees. Many people I spoke to at Grande-Synthe had family in the UK, but often the rules prevented them from reuniting with their family.
“We want to work with the government to remedy this and strengthen a pre-existing safe and legal route for refugees.”