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French court orders city to improve Calais refugee camp living conditions

Decision comes in response to complaint from French charity over squalid conditions at the massive camp

A French court has ordered the Lille municipal government to organize trash collection and install bathrooms at a refugee camp in the town of Calais, where about 6,000 people live in squalid conditions with many lacking water and electricity, activists said Tuesday.

The decision Monday was a result of an administrative complaint filed last week by two French charities, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and Secours Catholique (Catholic Help). They demanded that French authorities respect humanitarian law and provide basic sanitation and medical care at the site, often nicknamed "The Jungle."

Calais, which falls under Lille’s jurisdiction, has eight days to install 10 additional water access points and 50 toilets at the site, and to clean it, organize regular trash collection and create an access route for medical emergency services, the charities told Al Jazeera. The court decision also obliges authorities to identify unaccompanied children within 48 hours of arrival at the camp, in response to the rapidly rising number of displaced children. 

“This is a first victory for us to have the state and local authorities be obliged to act rapidly and respond to essential and vital needs of all women, men and children in exile, and improve their material life conditions,” the charities said in a joint statement.

While the two charities welcomed the court’s action, they said they would remain "vigilant" about the implementation of the order, and demanded "more ambitious means to sustainably remedy the indignities" inflicted on the site’s residents. They also urged the French government to provide housing for all 6,000 residents, and to fulfill a previous promise to build more than the 1,000 living spaces and provide 100 beds for women and children.

Last week Medecins du Monde called conditions at the camp “a violation of [residents’] human rights, dignity and right to request asylum.” It said that camp residents are “given one meal a day,” and that “dental abscesses and a scabies epidemic go untreated, and women are raped.”

The treatment of refugees has provoked a heated debate among volunteer organizations across the European Union, which aid workers say relies heavily on charities to provide necessary assistance to the thousands of people seeking asylum in the bloc.

Since January more than 710,000 refugees — most fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Eritrea — have entered Europe, and 3,300 have died making the journey, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Despite the continued refugee migration to Europe, EU countries have failed to adopt a refugee quota system that would more equally distribute people for resettlement across countries. Eastern European countries have refused to accept such a system. Hungary on Tuesday approved a law rejecting the implementation of a quota system, paving the way for the government to seek legal action against the EU for trying to coerce it to comply with the quota.

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