The first cases of coronavirus have been reported in refugee camps in northern France, according to an aid worker.
Around 800 refugees are trapped at Britain’s border around Calais and Dunkirk. Coronavirus would have a devastating impact if it spreads through the make-shift settlements where people live in squalid conditions.
Heidi Henders, a volunteer with Care4Calais, told Socialist Worker that there have been two cases of coronavirus in Dunkirk and one in Calais. She added that “there are going to be a lot of cases we don’t know about” because testing consists of just taking temperatures.
The cases in northern France came as the United Nation’s (UN) warned that the virus would have a “catastrophic impact for millions” in refugee camps across the world. Antonia Vitorino, UN International Organisation for Migration director general, said, “We see the arrival of Covid-19 in camps as an inevitability not a possibility.”
The first case of the virus was reported in the refugee camp on Lesvos on Wednesday of last week. A photograph emerged a few days later showing more than 450 refugees in a food queue in the Greek island’s Moria camp.
In France Heidi says it’s “really hard to maintain social distancing in the camp” where people live in tents pitched less than a foot apart. “Another charity in another camp managed to ask refugees to queue,” she said.
“But here it’s a different situation. People are saying to us what is the point of queuing when they live in cramped conditions in tents”.
Volunteers are taking large bottles of water and soap so refugees can wash their hands, but there is very little sanitation in the camps.
The French state has implemented one of the strictest lockdowns, with thousands of people fined for disobeying orders to stay inside.
Heidi says the police are intimidating refugees around the camps even more than usual. “You need papers to go out as a volunteer that say you are a key worker delivering aid,” she said.
“Of course refugees don’t have these papers.”
Heidi said the situation has become desperate because “a lot of the other charities who provide food and clothing for refugees had stopped”. “For a time it was just Care4Calais doing it,” she explained.
“The French government has made a conscious choice to not help people. They have reduced the aid they give to refugees by 50 percent and have stopped them having access to showers.”
Care4Calais is running an urgent appeal for donations during this crisis. Heidi said, “The British government needs to provide aid.
“Refugees want to come to Britain at this time of crisis they should be doing so much more.”
Anti-racists should demand that the British state opens the border and lets refugees come to safety.