September 22, 2015

Approximately 3,500 refugees are living in a former garbage dump on the outskirts of Calais, France. Conditions at the site, known as the "Jungle," are miserable and getting worse, despite the efforts of nonprofit organizations on-site and local charitable initiatives.

Recent rain has already caused damage at this sandy, hilly location—a quarter of the site was flooded within one week. People are living in small camping tents that are not suitable for rainy winter weather. Some have built shelters, but they have to make do with cardboard boxes, bags, plastic tarps, or salvaged wood.

Since September 10, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team has been collaborating with international humanitarian organization Médecins du Monde (MDM), which has been running a clinic at the site since June. An MSF doctor and nurse are helping the MDM team provide medical consultations. However, the area in which these consultations were held has recently flooded. MSF is undertaking temporary repairs while searching for a more appropriate location for the clinic.

“The Jungle is a state-sanctioned slum, and a dead end for many refugees who would like to continue on to Great Britain or obtain asylum in France,” says MSF project coordinator Pierre-Pascal Vandini. “The people I have met here are exhausted and distraught. A 17-year-old boy, who had already lived as a refugee in a camp in Sudan, told me that he had never been in such a filthy, unhealthy environment as the one here in France.”

In addition to flooding, waste management is also a problem. The ground in the camp is strewn with garbage bags, as the three large dumpsters set up just outside the Jungle are inadequate and inconvenient. On September 21, MSF launched a large clean-up campaign to gather the trash and set up a system for collecting and managing garbage for each community.

“We are humanitarian aid workers and are used to providing aid to refugees in medical and health emergencies in Sudan, Ethiopia, Jordan, and elsewhere, but the situation here has been particularly shocking,” Vandini says. “People have been left to fend for themselves, law enforcement turns a blind eye to violence, there are not enough water stations or showers, and no one is maintaining the scanty health infrastructure. It’s organized abandonment.”

Learn More About MSF's Work With Refugees and Migrants

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