Calais camp charities win court case to keep providing food for refugees

Until a recent police raid, the kids cafe was able to serve two free meals to around 200 children every day.Facebook | Calais Action

Attempts by French authorities to close down services at the Calais 'Jungle' refugee camp were rejected by a local court today, as numbers in the camp reach an all-time high.

A judge at the Administrative Court of Lille ruled against the closure of the shops and restaurants at the migrant camp outside the French port, dubbed the "Calais Jungle". The shops included an outreach and 'safe space' for unaccompanied young people at the site.

The court's decision said the attempt to close the shops was "understandable" but that other factors were more pressing.

Help Refugees, a charity offering practical support to people in the camp, said it is "delighted" at the result. "This ruling means that people's dignity and hunger will not be exacerbated even further than they already are," it said.

The ruling said that the shops and cafés were needed by the people there, and removing them would reduce living standards still further. Help Refugees warned that the camp is running low on food, and that people are reporting that they are hungry for the first time.

The charity also announced its latest census figures for people at the camp, the highest yet: 9,106 people, an increase of 29 per cent since early July. It also said that there are 865 children living in the Jungle – 78 per cent of them on their own.

As reported by Christian Today earlier this week, the Prefect of Pas-de-Calais was trying to close down 72 traders who they said are illegally operating on the site in Calais. But this included the "Jungle Books" kids café, run by British former teacher Mary Jones. She says it serves around 200 children and offers a space for legal asylum advice, English and French lessons, and therapeutic help as well as food.

"It's wonderful, it's unbelievable," said Jones of the ruling. "The judge might never have set foot in the jungle, but he obviously understood how much more difficult life would have been for the refugees if the restaurants and shops were closed. Everyone needs a place where they can just sit down and be normal, watch television."

She warned that there is likely to continue to be continued problems with authorities – there is the possibility of an appeal and the police may still investigate the conditions at the camp. Recently police came and seized equipment from the café, which led to it only being able to offer one meal a day rather than two. A petition had reached nearly 170,000 signatures before the decision was made.

Christian Today has reported on the disappearance of children from the camp, and the evidence of rape and abuse of boys living there.

The International Business Times has previously interviewed some of the young people who used the Kid's Café about what it means to them. "I like this place for studying," said 15-year old Abid from Afghanistan. "If they close it, we will definitely fight with the police again. We will complain. We come from Afghanistan to study; closing this place is not okay."

Mohammed, 16, said the Kids Cafe "is very good because they helped me get in contact with my father. It's a place where we can talk about our problems with each other. Outside [in the rest of the Jungle] there are only big men. In here we are safe."

Help Refugees posted on Facebook: "The restaurants and shops are a source of food, a space for the vulnerable, and a community space – somewhere that you could sit and talk over a cup of tea in a safe environment. Forcibly removing this positive aspect of life in the camp at a time when the number of residents is increasing so rapidly is seriously affecting our ability to provide even one meal a day for everyone."