Sadly, last Wednesday our RWC van broke down and is in need of a new gear box. Since many of the families are now being sheltered in surrounding towns, there is a greater need than ever to be mobile. Here is an update of the RWC situation on the ground by a current volunteer, Frances, Please read to understand the demands and concerns of the ever changing situation:
As a seemingly relentless winter takes hold here in northern France, the Women's Centre team continues to adapt to the rapidly evolving situation on the ground. With a recent increase in arrivals of new men, women and children, many of whom are unaccompanied, the need remains high.
In December, during a period of snow and bitter cold, the Mayor's office in Grande Synthe took an emergency decision to convert a local gymnasium into temporary winter accommodation. This has provided shelter and sanitary facilities for around 200 refugees who were previously living outside in the woods. The Women's Centre welcomed this move, one of the few responses of humanity and foresight from local authorities in the area. However, capacity is limited and so is time - the gymnasium will only be open until 31st March.
Whilst the Mayor's office are doing all they can to ensure the gymnasium remains a place of safety for as many people as possible, they have taken much of the cost upon themselves and had no support from the central government. We are still appalled that no solution has been offered to roughly 150 people - and rising - who remain outside, predominantly young men from ethnic minority groups. The single water point in the 'Jungle' was cut when the gymnasium opened in an attempt to 'dissuade' people from remaining in the woods. This means those denied a place inside are battling to survive in the face of no access to basic sanitation, and limited access to information, material and medical support. Police evictions and confiscation of property, including essentials such as tents and sleeping bags, remain frequent. Mental health has deteriorated to a worrying degree, and as desperation rises, so does the number of severe physical injuries that we see.
In this winter period, our team has moved much of our daily work into the gymnasium, coordinating material distributions for families and single men, organising activities for children and families and continuing to respond daily to the changing needs on the ground. Being able to work inside in a structured space has allowed us to build much stronger relationships with the families and individuals, and to better oversee the welfare and safety of those now staying in the gymnasium.
In addition to our work every day in Dunkirk, we do bi-weekly women's distributions in the Calais 'Jungle', where the number of women and families has risen dramatically in the last week since news of the meeting between Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron.
We also do weekly visits to various CAOs (accommodation and orientation centres opened by the French state with the intention of accommodating those wishing to seek asylum in France, but which over the winter period have been opened also to those who have not applied for asylum) in the region. In these centres we do distributions and offer psychosocial support to the families living there. Whilst they have access to shelter and greater material comfort, they are often unable to access information about their situation and legal options, and are far from others in their community as well as from the goal they have come here for - the UK border.
We remain present in the 'Jungle' to monitor and respond to needs, and we foresee our work there increasing as more and more new arrivals, including families with young children and unaccompanied minors, are forced to sleep outside. Come April, when both the gymnasium and CAOs will be closed, it is likely that several hundred people will be returning to the area. As of yet, no solution has been offered by the state or local authorities to what will happen in April. Whilst the Mayor's office hopes to prevent people returning to the 'Jungle' site - in fact their local wooded park - people are being given nowhere else to go. It is an abhorrence that not even their most basic human rights are met. Without the support of the state and the political will for a longer term approach to the situation in northern France, the dangers - physical and psychological - faced by those in the area will continue to deteriorate.
In order to maintain the central aspect of our work - the wide range of situations we respond to each day
and the different areas we cover - mobility is vital. Our cars and the flexibility of our volunteers are indispensable.
If you'd like to help:
- Donate financially to help us to cover the costs of our work - material support, temporary shelter for families, car costs to keep us mobile, to name only a few.
- Donate goods: see our updated needs list here.
- For more information on volunteering long-term with us please see our website.