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Charity groups take action against French city over refugee treatment

Charities outraged over France's ‘Jungle’ camp, where 6,000 refugees and other migrants live in dangerous squalor

A nonprofit medical charity assisting refugees and other migrants at a massive makeshift camp in France has filed a complaint against the city of Lille for its alleged mishandling of the site often called “the Jungle,” where about 6,000 people live in squalid conditions without basic sanitation or medical care.

Medecins du Monde, also known as Doctors of the World, demanded that the city of Calais, which falls under Lille’s jurisdiction, provide basic amenities to the camp's inhabitants. Many have been living there for more than a year with little access to clinics, bathrooms or safe sleeping quarters for women fleeing sexual violence.

The group, along with French nonprofit organization Le Secours Catholique, filed the complaint on behalf of “Sudanese, Eritreans, Iraqis, Afghans and Syrians” at the camp. They asked that “the judge take urgent measures, without conditions or delay, to respond to the essential and vital needs of all women, men and children in exile,” Medecins du Monde said in a news release.

Conditions at the camp are “a violation of their human rights, dignity and right to request asylum,” Medecins du Monde said. It said residents are “given one meal a day, dental abscesses and a scabies epidemic go untreated, and women are raped.” 

More than 710,000 people, most fleeing war and violence in Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, crossed into the European Union this year, according to data released this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The journey is often perilous. Over 3,000 people have died this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean or, in Calais, jumping on Eurotunnel trains in that connect France with the United Kingdom — a popular destination country for refugees and economic migrants.

While thousands continue to enter the EU each day — a record 11,500 people entered Croatia on Saturday — the bloc remains divided on how to tackle the crisis. Some countries have refused to participate in the refugee quota system the EU adopted in September, a program aimed to distribute those arriving in Italy and Greece more equitably across the bloc. The U.K., for example, has only agreed to accept 5,000 Syrians in the next five years.

Medecins du Monde demanded this week that the French government re-initiate talks with its British counterparts to review that decision. It also asked the U.K. to shift its focus from providing “security” — via a $25 million pledge to invest in fences, sniffer dogs and surveillance cameras — to improving humanitarian assistance and resettling more people. “The fatalism of the [U.K.] government is incomprehensible,” the organization said in a statement.

The Medecins du Monde complaint follows reports from volunteers and aid groups that governments across the EU are skirting their responsibilities to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees — some say to deter more from embarking on their journeys.

Lille is not the only city targeted over its treatment of refugees and migrants. Nearly one in five of them live in the world’s 20 largest cities, according to an IOM report published Tuesday. June Lee, editor of the report, said policymakers need to avoid the “clustering” of migrants in cities, “to combat residential segregation becoming generational.”

Similarly, Medecins du Monde this week urged the French government to avoid the “ghettoization” of the crisis in Calais, saying that local municipalities should make every effort to integrate refugees into society.

In Germany, up to 1.5 million people are expected to request asylum this year. Many are being resettled in Berlin, Munich and other major cities overwhelmed by the influx of refugees.

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