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The struggle to support refugees through the Calais winter

As the “Beast from the East” sweeps across Europe from Russia, cars are being abandoned on roads, schools are closed, and there’s increased pressure on gas providers. In Northern France, refugees are facing these same conditions, but without the luxury of shelter, heating, or even a bed for the night. Grassroots charities are working hard to keep support going, but the snow and ice is putting up an unwelcome fight.

This morning, the walk-in fridge at the Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) is warmer than the warehouse where over 2,000 meals a day are produced for hundreds of refugees sleeping rough in the region. When the team arrives to start making food, the pipes are frozen.

This is nothing compared to the temperatures on the exposed piece of wasteland where Calais’s refugees formed a makeshift base following the destruction of ‘The Jungle’ in 2016. Temperatures in Calais have dropped to -6 ͦ C, but with a biting wind it feel more like -13 ͦ C. There is no shelter for these people displaced from their homes, and RCK is working hard to keep up the support that people in the region have come to rely on.

RCK co-founder Janie Mac says that in these freezing temperatures, hot food is the very least the charity - which is fighting hard to keep up daily food distributions - can provide.

Refugee Community Kitchen

While France’s ‘Grand Froid’ policy provides emergency housing during the coldest of winter nights, RCK says hundreds of people are still sleeping outdoors in flimsy tents and makeshift shelters. The charity says that these refugees have no access to basic facilities, and are under constant threat of being violently evicted by the local authorities.

RCK and its sister charities Help Refugees, L'Auberge des Migrant, and Utopia 56 work through the night to support rough sleepers in Calais. Hot meals are served during the day, and at night mobile distributions deliver supplies like hot tea and hand warmers to those left out in the cold.

As temperatures drop lower than the team has ever experienced in Calais, RCK co-founder Paula Gallardo says: "Our hearts fill with fear for the young souls living in the forests in the area, who are trying to keep awake and alive through the night. We are driving out in teams, searching them out to give warmth and love in the form of tea and boiled eggs.”

Refugee Community Kitchen is entirely volunteer-run, and has now cooked two million meals since 1 December 2015. Donations have kept the project going, and allowed the group to buy exactly what it needs.

In addition to its efforts in northern France, the charity serves hot food to London’s homeless five nights a week. Like Calais, the current below freezing temperatures in the UK have created life-threatening conditions for those sleeping on the streets.

Refugee Community Kitchen is supported by Charity Pot. Find out more about volunteering or donating to RCK.

Read more about the situation for refugees in Northern France

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