The grave humanitarian crisis looming in Calais

By Haydée Sabéran

For a second week running, the desperate situation of migrants gathering in the northern French port of Calais in the hope of finding a clandestine passage to Britain has been making headlines on both sides of the Channel. This Tuesday, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart appeared before a largely hostile British parliamentary committee on immigration and warned that the migrants were “ready to die” to reach Britain, which she criticised for focussing on greater security alone as a solution to the recent sharp rise in the numbers of those arriving in Calais from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, many of whom have fled war zones. Most, including women and children, live rough in makeshift camps in and around the town, where racist attacks against them are on the rise and where aid associations complain they can no longer cope with what one major French charity, the Secours Catholique, has warned is an imminent “humanitarian crisis of a size never known here”. Haydée Sabéran reports from Calais on the everyday human misery of the migrants, the despair of those involved in helping them, and lifts the lid on a myth, bolstered by events in the Channel port, that Britain is bearing the brunt of clandestine immigration to Europe.  

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Tensions in Calais have become significantly heightened over recent months, fuelled by a series of dramatic incidents and a significant increase in the number of migrants arriving in the town and who are now estimated to number at least 2,300.