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Coronavirus: Newport volunteer in migrant camp lockdown

By Nelli Bird
BBC News

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  • Europe migrant crisis
media caption"It made more sense for me to stay where I was"

An aid worker who has spent the past six weeks in lockdown in the migrant camps of northern France has said "people are being left to rot in a field" during the coronavirus crisis.

Pauline Beckett, 58, of Caerleon, Newport, has volunteered with the charity Care4Calais since 2015.

However, the retired teacher was in France when the lockdown was announced.

Now she is among a dwindling group of helpers because many charities have withdrawn staff due to the pandemic.

image copyrightCare4Calais
image captionPauline Becket has been in lockdown in the refugee camps in Calais

"I happened to book my trip at the point where the lockdown was imposed," she said.

"I could have got home at that point as I was only supposed to be here for five days, but it made more sense for me to stay where I was.

"About 10 days to two weeks into my stint over here coronavirus reared its ugly head in the camp and that was a complete game-changer. At that point it was a question of 'do we carry on, can we do this safely?'"

image copyrightCare4Calais
image caption"I miss everyone dreadfully. I am so homesick for Wales," said Pauline

Pauline has remained in the camp, helping distribute food and clothes to the migrants.

However, she admits it is difficult to follow safety advice on social distancing and hand-washing given the poor sanitation.

"When we go out on distributions we wear two sets of gloves, two masks and makeshift overalls, so we've had to use what we could find," she said.

"We've got two types of overalls. One is a diving suit and the other is a set of airline pyjamas - first-class sleep suits. We strip them off before we come back into the warehouse and they are all washed at plus 60 degrees."

image copyrightCare4Calais
image captionVolunteers say migrants are living in overcrowded conditions with no running water
image copyrightCare4Calais
image captionThousands of refugees remain in the camps in northern France

As the number of suspected cases of Covid-19 in the camps grows, increasing numbers of migrants have tried to cross the Channel to the UK.

Analysis up to the middle of April suggested at least 470 people attempted to cross the Channel illegally since Britain went into lockdown on 23 March.

The French government has started to move some of the migrants into accommodation but not everyone has wanted to go.

"It just seems incongruous to me that in the 21st Century, you can let people rot in a field and that is what is happening here," said Pauline.

"So it's very necessary that their basic needs are met because they are such a vulnerable group. Nobody's got their back".

As Pauline's time at the camps comes to an end, she is starting to think of home.

"I miss everyone dreadfully. I am so homesick for Wales so it will be good to get back," she said.

"I'll be isolating for another two weeks when I get back but after that I'll be moving back in with my husband. Then it'll be a few more weeks before I can see my children."

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