British Columbia

Calais refugee camp filled with people that feel 'forgotten,' says Victoria journalist

"There's this one boy from Afghanistan and he has tried to cross the border on his own or with other groups of people, but he's been detained by police, he's been tear gassed, had police dogs bark in his face."

Katie Derosa, a Victoria reporter, said conditions are filthy, unsanitary and unsafe for children

Iranian migrants cook food in a shelter in the camp known as 'The Jungle' on January 5, 2016 in Calais, France. (Getty Images)

The Calais migrant camp in northern France, is filled with Syrians, Eritreans and others who — largely left in limbo by the French and U.K. governments — are so desperate for a better life that some try to stow away onto vehicles crossing the English Channel or even attempt to go through the Channel Tunnel by foot.

Conditions in the camp of about 5,000 people are appalling, according to Katie Derosa, a reporter with the Times Colonist newspaper in Victoria, who volunteered in what has become known as "The Jungle" while on leave from the paper to study in England.

Children, teens at risk

"There's litter and debris everywhere … children are just not getting basic humanitarian aid and protection," said Derosa, who added that there is also no clean water, places to keep food sanitary, and illnesses like tuberculosis are spreading around the camp.

Derosa told All Points West host Robyn Burns that she looked after a one-year-old boy while his mother picked out clothes from a women and children's centre in the camp.

"He was just taking his first steps he was ambling around the area, and I couldn't believe that this little boy is living in these kinds of conditions," she said.

She also said there are a lot of teenagers without their families in the camp, having been sent away from danger in their home countries.

"There's this one boy from Afghanistan and he has tried to cross the border on his own or with other groups of people, but he's been detained by police, he's been tear gassed, had police dogs bark in his face, and you can tell — I've talked to volunteers who know him quite well — there are psychological issues from all that he's experienced."

Stuck in limbo and desperate

Derosa said that the French and U.K. governments have each said that the migrants are the other government's problem, and because the camp is considered an illegal settlement, many aid organizations haven't been able to work there.

"There's a lot of vilification of these people in the media in England, saying that they're jumping the queues and they're trying to get in illegally," she said.

"It is really like these people are being forgotten, and that's why they're taking such desperate risks."

That desperation has led to some trying to stow away on trucks waiting to board car-shuttle trains, or passenger trains crossing the Eurotunnel, the railway that goes through the Channel Tunnel from France to England.

Migrants make their way along train tracks as they attempt to access the Channel Tunnel to travel to Britain from Calais, France. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

The Associated Press reported that hundreds of migrants rushed into the tunnel in July 2015, and a young Sudanese man was crushed by a truck in the process.

At that time Eurotunnel said it had blocked more than 37,000 such attempts by migrants to reach Britain since January 2015.

"The visible presence of the police was quite staggering," Derosa said.

"The British government has spent $8 million building a steel and barbed wire fence to make it more difficult for people to access the Eurotunnel, but people will find a way around it, and they're willing to take those very dangerous risks."

While Derosa said she welcomes the Canadian government's efforts to bring in Syrian refugees to Canada, she said there are many others who are facing persecution.

Many are leaving Eritrea, for example, because that country, dubbed the North Korea of Africa, has no constitution and forced military service, she added.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Victoria journalist tours the Calais refugee camp in France



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