Until recently, it was NGOs that provided food in Calais. (Photo: Mehdi Chebil)
Until recently, it was NGOs that provided food in Calais. (Photo: Mehdi Chebil)

On Tuesday, the French government took over food distribution to migrants in Calais. NGOs that had previously provided meals say they will stand by, but are happy that the government is “finally taking responsibility.”

Starting on March 6, the French state will take over the distribution of meals to migrants living in Calais through the association La Vie Active. The Pas-de-Calais prefecture announced that around 700 meals would be distributed daily (350 in the morning and 350 in the evening). The number can be “adjusted according to need,” according to the prefecture’s press service.

The meals will be distributed from food trucks at three different locations.

- Virval (near the hospital)

- La rue des Huttes

- north of the Marcel Doré industrial zone, near a BMX park

The distribution sites are “secured” and the distributions will be monitored by security forces. Temporary installations will provide migrants shelter while eating.

"These sites are located on the periphery of Calais, because we don’t plan to hand out meals in the town center,” said the prefect.

Local NGO Auberge des Migrants is disappointed by this decision.

“We had a distribution site in place de Norvège [Norway Square] in the center of Calais where we provided food to about 50 migrants,” says François Guennoc, the vice president of the association. “It was too bad that we closed it. The new distribution points are far away and people who live in the town center will have trouble getting there.”

The association La Vie active is already running several different services for migrants living in Calais, including water points and showers. They also provided emergency shelter for refugees during particularly cold weather.

"It’s good news that the government has taken over food distributions," says Charlotte, a volunteer with the organization Utopia 56. "We’ve been fighting for a long time for the government to take charge of this responsibility.”

In the past, most meals and food distributions were provided by NGOs such as l'Auberge des migrants, Utopia 56, RCK (Refugee community kitchen) and Salam. These associations say that they are standing by.

"We are letting the government take over but we are also observing how it all goes down. If they don’t provide enough food and people are left hungry or if things don’t go well in general, we will intervene,” says Charlotte from Utopia 56.

The associations also hope that the food distributions will unfold without incident.

“We have five different food distribution points because we avoid mixing certain communities,” Charlotte says. “We had one distribution point for Afghans, for example, and another for Eritreans. Sometimes it gets very tense between the migrants and things can take a turn for the worse. We saw that recently.” [On February 1, four people were shot during disputes.]

According to the prefecture, there are currently about 350 migrants living in and around Calais with the hopes of making it to the United Kingdom. NGOs, however, estimate that the number is closer to 500 or 600.

Tweet translated from French:

The state present in #Calais helps migrants #reinforcement #humanitarianbase As announced by @EmmanuelMacron, the state is taking over the distribution of meals to the migrant population starting on March 6, 2018


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