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Africa

French charity gives Christmas gifts to Calais migrants' children

media Tsega, a migrant from Eritrea with her 5-year-old son Naher in a gymnasium in Calais Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

A charity in Calais in France distributed Christmas gifts on Tuesday to the children of migrants who camp there in their bid to cross the sea to reach Britain.

Volunteers who run a meal service throughout the year handed out toys and sweets to about 300 children and teenagers, cosmetics to about 400 women and also more than a thousand gifts to the men in the city.

Refugees of conflicts in Asia and Africa have been coming to Calais since the mid 1990s in hope of crossing the English Channel.

They've been living in squats, makeshift camps or on the streets since the closing of a refugee camp at nearby Sangatte in 2002.

This year, their numbers shot up from a few hundred to several thousand at any given time, raising tensions with police and residents and provoking rivalries between groups of migrants themselves.

Jean-Louis Callen, regional general secretary of the Secours Populaire charity says the turbulent events of the past year have not led to an improvement in the situation.

"There has been no progress, despite the promises we've heard from the French government. The situation stays the same from day to day, year in and year out. Since Sangatte closed, there has been nothing to welcome these people. And when they're left outdoors with no place to go, it reinforces xenophobic feelings, fears of foreigners."

Callens explained beforehand why the charity would be giving out presents this year.
"We know it's a difficult holiday season for the migrants. We help them get food throughout the year, and decided to do a bit more during this Christmas season, so the children would not be forgotten, which is often the case in these situations. So we've planned to bring them toys, little treats and sweets. Today there are about 2000 people, including 300 children and 400 women. We decided to do more for them, because it's often the men who we see in the city, and we wanted women and children to be included."
 

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