Afghans who fled the Taliban risk dying in freezing temperatures in Calais, NGOs have warned.
People who left Afghanistan after the US withdrawal this summer have started to arrive in northern France in the hope of reaching the UK by crossing the Channel in dinghies. But charities have raised the alarm that conditions are deteriorating sharply, putting thousands of lives at risk.
A combination of freezing temperatures, increasingly forceful evictions of refugees from makeshift shelters by police and cuts to funding for charities working on the frontline has created a perfect storm, the organisations said.
A legal challenge is under way against Priti Patel’s plans to use jet skis to turn back small boats mid-Channel. The Times has reported Home Office sources as saying the controversial pushback tactics could be used for the first time this month.
While thousands were airlifted out of Afghanistan to safety in the UK when the Taliban took over, many others were forced to make the same hazardous journey across land and sea as those fleeing persecution in countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.
Charities say that at least 150 evictions have taken place by police in northern France since Christmas. Care4Calais has reported that some of the refugees they work with have been injured by teargas, rubber bullets and batons used by the French police during evictions. The French authorities have said that more than a dozen of their officers have been injured during these evictions.
The French authorities are issuing increasingly long lists of roads where charities are not allowed to distribute food and other essentials to refugees.
The celebrity-backed funder Choose Love pulled the plug on £600,000 of funding to organisations providing food, water, blankets and other essential aid to refugees in northern France at the end of last year, with the charities affected warning they may be forced to close.
Louis Woodhead, facilitator with Calais Food Collective, said: “The lack of certainty about future finding means we will have to start rationing how much food we distribute. People here are already exposed to police brutality, human rights abuses and have no safe way to claim asylum in the UK. It is already a humanitarian crisis and if we’re forced to cut services the situation is only going to get worse.”
Imogen Hardman, operations manager for Care4Calais in northern France, said the situation was dire and deteriorating.
“The weather is awful at the moment. It’s incredibly cold. We are trying to ensure that people have access to tents, sleeping bags, boots and warm clothes. Police are evicting every 48 hours. Trees are being cut down and land cleared across a lot of different living sites, meaning that people have no shelter and the land becomes more muddy. We are seeing an increase in the Afghan community here, people who fled after the Taliban took over have now arrived in Calais. Every single person here is a human being who has experienced really horrible things.”
A 15-year-old refugee from Sudan called Yousef said he had been sleeping behind the French supermarket Auchan in Calais. He said: “Sometimes we have a tent if the police don’t take it. If we have firewood we cook with whatever we can find, scraps or anything. We use tins to cook in as the police take the pans charities give us. I try to cross the Channel most nights. If I can get to England most of all I want to go to school.”