Humanitarian Spotlight: Crisis in Calais

The world now faces the largest displacement crisis ever to be recorded, with almost 60 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014. For Europe and the United Kingdom, the migration crisis has confronted the region at its shores, and nowhere is this more evident in mainland Europe than in the migrant and refugee encampments of Calais, better known as “the Jungle”. Calais, a port city in northern France, has become a transitory home for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers trying to enter the United Kingdom. The site has been the locus of ongoing tensions between French authorities and migrant and refugee populations since 2002 when the official Red Cross reception center for migrants was closed due to overcrowding. The collection of informal settlements known as the Jungle developed soon after as a staging post for those attempting entry into the UK, but the camps have now become semi-permanent dwelling places due to the dangers of border crossing and lack of other viable options for settlement. The camps are marked by makeshift tents, overcrowding, and a lack of basic needs and services – squalid conditions that will only deteriorate further if nothing is done to address the situation, especially as the number of inhabitants continues to grow. The population of displaced who inhabit Calais has more than quadrupled since September 2014, now numbering between 6,000 – 7,000 individuals.

Dr. Lynne Jones, Co-Director of the IIHA Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) course, recently volunteered in Calais with Help Calais, a crowd funding platform that has already raised more than £60,000 to help various projects in the camps, and shared her experiences in a diary on Calaid-ipedia.

Reflecting on her decision to volunteer, Lynne commented, “I disliked the stereotype of ‘marauding swarms’. I wanted to find out for myself why people were risking their lives on a daily basis to come to Britain. Calais is only 6 hours away. So often, Europeans will go to remote places, while there are people on our doorstep who need help. It seemed only logical to find out how I could be useful.” Lynne found a sizeable network of people who offer their help and services in the absence of much structured humanitarian response. The internet has also contributed greatly to galvanizing volunteers.

As can be expected, the volunteers and refugees in Calais face similar issues to those plaguing the larger humanitarian system including problems of coordination, logistics, how to reach the most vulnerable, funding, and navigating the tensions between the arriving populations and the host community, local authorities, and national government. The broader concerns of host government responsibility and the lack of durable solutions for displaced populations also echo those that hinder humanitarian efforts around the world. Yet despite these challenges and the uncertainty of the future, a community continues to form in the Jungle

Read Lynne’s Jungle Diary!

Lynne Jones, O.B.E. FRCPsych., Ph.D., is a Visiting scientist, FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, Harvard University and Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Cornwall Partnership Foundation NHS Trust. She is also the Co-Director of the IIHA Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) Training Course, which is organized in cooperation with UNHCR, HealthNet TPO, and International Medical Corps (IMC). View our recent blog post about this year’s MHCE course in Addis. The next course is scheduled for Fall 2016.

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