Press Release – 5 September 2016

Calais, Dunkirk and small camps:
New data on refugee settlements in northern France

Today Refugee Rights Data Project launches three new reports that present a complete picture of the situation faced by refugees and displaced people in northern France: in Calais, Dunkirk, and smaller camps dotted around the region. This constitutes the largest research effort around refugees and displaced people in the region to-date.

These research findings come at a time when the future of the situation in northern France has become increasingly uncertain – following government evictions of local shops and restaurants in the Calais camp, a visit by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Friday, and post-Brexit discussions casting doubt on the longevity of the Le Touquet agreement between France and the UK.

Given these developments, the need to fill information gaps relating to the situation faced by displaced people in Calais, Dunkirk and the smaller camps appears more important than ever.

Key findings from each of the three reports include:

1. The Calais report, Still Waiting, containing data from 589 surveys with camp residents (approx. 6.5% of the total) in July / August 2016, suggests:

  • The largest proportion, 32%, want to go to the UK because they can speak English. A number thought they would have better education opportunities in the United Kingdom than elsewhere (28.7%), while many reported having family in the UK (21.4%).
  • 46% said the most important kind of information for them is how to go to the UK legally, while 34% want to know why it is so difficult to go to the UK.
  • The largest proportion, 14%, had been living in the camp for approximately one month. Meanwhile, 8.7% had been in the camp for more than a year; the vast majority of whom still want to continue trying to reach the UK (87.5%).

2. The Dunkirk report, The "Other" Camp, containing data from 506 surveys with residents of the camp in Grande-Synthe (approx. 30% of the total) in March / April 2016, indicates:

  • Almost a quarter of women respondents were pregnant at the time of the survey.
  • 42% of respondents had experienced police violence in France.
  • In total 47% of survey respondents below 18 years old reported having been detained during their stay in France, while 28% of all respondents (minors and adults combined) had been detained.
  • The study found correlation between refugees’ and displaced people’s length of stay in France and their experience of police violence and detention.
  • 54% of all respondents, 50% of women and 39% of minors said they did not know how to seek asylum to a country they are heading for. This raises concerns about the fulfilment of these people’s basic human rights; where a right to seek for asylum is a universal right for people fleeing conflict, persecution and discrimination of various forms.

3. The qualitative 'Small Camps' report, The Unknown Knowns, contains observations from five discrete settlements dotted around the region suggests:

  • The small camps are generally neglected by aid organisations and mostly rely on the support of individuals.
  • Although support from local communities was relatively common, living conditions resembled those in the Calais camp. Thus, the situation raises serious concerns about human rights infringements and unmet humanitarian standards.
  • The camps tend to have a higher turnover than the larger camps, and many residents arrive into the camp from Calais and/or Dunkirk.
  • Since these camps are less populated, residents may become easier targets for citizen violence and targeted right-wing attacks.

In summary, the findings show that refugees and displaced people in northern France face an array of problems. The camps are heavily overcrowded and many of their inhabitants are in poor health. Violence is endemic - often at the hands of the French authorities. There is an alarming absence of accurate, easily-accessible legal information to help people to understand their situation and make informed decisions about their future. And rather than being a temporary stopgap, some of the camps - the larger ones in particular - have become home to refugees and displaced people living in limbo for a year or more.

Marta Welander, Founder of RRDP, says:

“Refugees and displaced people are living in dire conditions across northern France. However, the new data suggests that shutting down or restricting access to the camps in Calais and Dunkirk - without offering a viable alternative - is unlikely to resolve the current bottle-neck situation. If camps are evicted without a viable plan, inhabitants are likely to disperse into the area. Not only would this put strain on existing small camps which are already under-resourced, but give rise to new settlements. Instead, a sustainable, long-term solution is needed."

About Refugee Rights Data Project

Refugee Rights Data Project (RRDP) is a non-governmental organisation and UK registered charity (no. 1168841). We aim to fill information gaps relating to refugees and displaced people in Europe by conducting our own independent field research. Our project is run by professionals with expertise spanning a broad range of sectors. We are independent of any political ideology or religion, and united by our commitment to defend the human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable groups of people.


For enquiries, please contact:

Natalie Stanton
Communications Coordinator
T: +44 (0)7817 380 897

Marta Welander
T: +44 (0)7880 230 979