By Pippa Hatton

It’s only been two weeks since the Calais camp demolition, but already the system to house refugees at “reception and orientation” centres (Les Centres d'accueil et Orientation, CAOs) across France is failing to meet basic human needs.

We’re hearing reports that refugees are unable to access healthcare and aren’t being provided with enough food: sometimes only one meal per day. Many organisations responsible for the CAOs have not been trained to work with refugees, which is a concern as people’s mental health could easily be worsened if they are not treated professionally.

Unaccompanied minors were promised a Home Office representative at each CAO to continue the family reunification process and deal with asylum claims, but in many cases these representatives never arrived.

Age assessments are being carried out at CAOs for unaccompanied minors, and in some regions social services have been excluded from this process, causing alarm about how children are being treated.

Psychiatric assessments recently concluded that 90 per cent of unaccompanied minors meet the criteria for a recognised psychiatric disorder. Broken promises, especially relating to huge life-changing decisions, will only exacerbate this.

The situation in the CAOs is so bad that many men, women and children have left and are now sleeping rough. A ‘humanitarian camp’ opened in Paris for 400 men on 10 November, but the centre for vulnerable women and children is yet to open.

As a humanitarian medical charity which has played an integral part in supporting the needs of refugees in France for years, we’re appalled by the way vulnerable people continue to be treated, and we’re being given very little information about what’s happening. We haven’t even been provided with the locations of the CAOs so that we can follow up with patients; something we’ve been asking for since the process was announced. Instead, we’re hearing these reports through refugees who’ve contacted us on a free phone number we provided, meaning we’re only able to follow up with those individuals.

In Calais, police are continuing to arrest people, and many are stationed at the Eurostar station and port.

“They seem to be arresting anyone who’s not white,” says Mélanie Vion, Doctors of the World’s regional assistant in Calais. “We believe they’re looking for refugees in the wider Calais area as well.”

After arrest, refugees are taken to detention centres. This was even the case for a man who was known to have mental health problems.

“When they started demolishing the Jungle, he was still in his shelter,” explains Vion. “Services were on their way to help as they knew he was mentally ill, but during the long wait he grew frustrated and became violent.

“The police arrested him and he was in detention for about a week, even though they knew he was unwell. We fought to get him released and eventually he was. He was still distressed and didn’t want to go to a CAO. We think he went to Paris instead.”

We’re extremely concerned for the mental health of refugees who’ve already been through so much and are now being treated horrendously. Humanitarian needs must always be the highest priority, but throughout this process human rights have continuously been breached.

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