UN Experts urge the French government to redress “inhumane” conditions in Northern France

United Nations’ human rights experts have urged the French government to improve the “inhumane” conditions faced by refugees and migrants in Northern France.


A recent statement, released by the UN and drawing on the warnings of three Special Rapporteurs, highlights the challenging situation faced by refugees and human rights defenders – including Help Refugees’ teams and partners – in Northern France.


Léo Heller, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, noted that some refugees are “living in tents without toilets and washing themselves in polluted rivers or lakes.”


“Some efforts [by the French government] have been made, but not enough,” he said. “I am concerned that for every step forward, two steps are taken back. The situation along the northern French coast is emblematic of the need for much more attention from national and international authorities on this issue.”


His warnings come after months of advocacy by Help Refugees and our partners with regard to the water and sanitation conditions in Northern France, including a report published by independent WASH expert Ella Foggitt and litigation in French courts.


The experts called for the provision of valid accommodation alternatives for the hundreds of refugees currently sleeping rough in Northern France, and said that dismantling informal and incipient camps was not a long-term solution. This comes after a week of heavy clearances by the French riot police, including the destruction and seizure of refugees’ property and tents.


“We are concerned about increasingly regressive migration policies and the inhumane and substandard conditions suffered by migrants,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.


“Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing…[and] access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”


The experts also noted the harassment and intimidation of volunteers who are working in Northern France, and called on France to fulfil its obligations and promote the crucial work of human rights defenders.


Help Refugees’ Field Manager for France, Annie Gavrilescu, said that: “A new worrying pattern is emerging, in Calais and across Europe, of criminalising aid workers. This comes in the context of significant aggression, violence and neglect that refugees themselves face from the police.

“However, any intimidation, harassment, criminalisation or hindrance of humanitarian aid is simply unacceptable and reminiscent of a very dark time in history. Human Rights Watch and a UN Special Rapporteur have also condemned this phenomenon.


“We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, because solidarity and aid are not crimes, but the bedrock of a civilised world.”


Help Refugees is the largest facilitator of aid in Northern France, and provides a range of services from food to child-specific support. Conditions in Calais and the surrounding area are dire, but our resources are already strained. Please, if you are able to donate, do so here.Thank you.