GRANDE-SYNTHE, FRANCE – As thousands of migrants prepare for falling temperatures in the “jungle” of Calais on France’s north coast, refugees in another makeshift camp just 35 km away are coping with even more squalid conditions as the winter freeze sets in.
In Grande-Synthe, a small town adjacent to the port city of Dunkirk, groups of men, women and children fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia have converged in recent months on a vast forest clearing to set up their tents.
Pouring rain and harsh winds from the nearby English Channel frequently turn the land into an ocean of mud. This weekend snow is forecast.
“We believe some 3,000 people are surviving here in atrocious sanitary conditions,” Samuel Hanryon of charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters on Tuesday.
That figure compares to around 4,000 for the “jungle” in Calais. Like in Calais, most of them hope eventually to reach Britain, across the Channel, where better job opportunities and the more familiar English language are big draws.
“We see many of them with fractures. Others have respiratory infections, the same that we see in Calais,” Hanryon said. But he added life for migrants in Grande-Synthe was far worse than in the “jungle,” with only around 30 toilets and two drinking water stations.
He said around 200 children were probably in the camp.
“Hell on earth is here,” Jutiyar, 25, said. He, his brothers and mother have been in Grande-Synthe for two months after traveling from Iraq to France.
“We pray to God to stop the rain. Sometimes all the tents fly away because of the wind and at night we can’t sleep because of the freezing cold.”
They chose Grande-Synthe after hearing life in Calais would be “too difficult.
Officials in Grande-Synthe did not immediately comment on the camp.
On Monday, France opened a migrants’ shelter made of converted shipping containers in Calais, an initiative aimed at bringing some order after months of clashes and worsening conditions in the area.
Security around train tracks to the Eurotunnel and around the port of Calais has been reinforced since last October to prevent migrants from jumping onto trains and vehicles heading for Britain or attempting to walk through the tunnel. This has led to frequent clashes between migrants and the police.
A new “semi-permanent” camp, with 500 heated tents and larger sanitary facilities, will open next month in coordination with MSF. It will be located in another area of Grande-Synthe and has been designed to accommodate up to 2,500 people.
But that will not stop some from pushing on. Several migrants said they still hoped to reach Britain, vowing to embark on lorries from the nearby Dunkirk port.
“I speak English, I have a sister in England, I can settle there and work as a carpenter,” Moji, 32, from Iran, said.
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