11 March 2016

Early this year, the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was granted permission to build a camp near the makeshift settlement of Grande-Synthe, where thousands of people were living in appalling conditions. The camp, which has the capacity to house 2,500 people, officially opened on Monday 7 March. It was built after a request from the Mayor of Grande-Synthe and is co-financed by the local authority and MSF. However, just a few days after it opened, the French national authorities questioned its adequacy and threatened to close down the camp

Hundreds of people have already moved into the camp, and are now living in heated wooden shelters. While conditions represent a definite improvement, both MSF and refugees themselves know that it is only a short-term solution. Many refugees are still set on trying to reach the UK and, while grateful for the improvement, are wary of the sense of permanence that these new structures may bring. “We were sleeping in thick mud, we were ill, so of course this is better… but I don’t know how long I will stay here,” said a Kurd refugee with his mind set on the UK.  

In an unexpected development this week the mayor of Grande-Synthe received an official letter from the French authorities threatening to close the camp as its conditions are deemed “harmful to the safety of hundreds of people” and do not meet the adequate standards. Fully disregarding a ruling by French courts in November 2015 which ordered the French authorities to provide adequate reception conditions to refugees and migrants in northern France, the national authorities have instead decided to actively disrupt the meagre improvements made.

“The management of the inhuman conditions facing the refugees and migrants in Grande Synthe has been completely left up to the local Mayor and a handful of NGOs and volunteers for several months,” Jean François Dubost, Head of Asylum & Migration Programme at Amnesty International France, explained to the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. “It is incredible that the State choses to intervene at this moment and jeopardize the possibility for these people to have a roof over their head. The State’s intervention is supposedly based on their security concerns for the people to be re-housed but their security has never been more guaranteed than in this new camp.”


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 11 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.