15 January 2016

The shores of northern France facing the UK are becoming an infamy in Europe, with refugees living in squalid conditions. Those who come to the area and attempt the crossing to the UK often remain stuck, due to the increased security controls and difficulties in reaching their desired destination. The ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais has been making the headlines for quite some time now, though in the past few weeks readers have learnt about another similar situation: Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk, just 35 kilometres away from Calais.

Grande-Synthe is an informal makeshift camp which used to host around 100 people, but has recently seen a huge increase, with as many as 100 people arriving every day. Most of them are Kurds from Syria and Iraq, as well as Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans. A number of people have been coming from Calais to escape police brutality in the ‘Jungle’ camp.

Many recent pictures indicate that, at the present, approximately 3,000 people live there, in unsanitary, freezing and inhumane conditions. Heavy rains and dropping temperatures contribute to create an unsafe muddy swamp, where conditions are defined as much worse than those in Calais. Many people are ill; chest infections and scabies are extremely common and cannot properly be treated. Grande-Synthe has been called ‘hell on hearth’ by one of the refugees living there. 

Up until a few days ago, local police was restricting the delivery of aid to the camp, and volunteers had to smuggle in tents, sheets, and any building material needed, often without success. On 12 January, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was granted permission for the construction of a camp which could accommodate around 2,500 people.

The new camp will be in a location 10 minutes away from the current one, and will have around 500 heated and winterised tents which can accommodate five people each. It will also have toilets, water and electricity points and all the necessary basic equipment to ensure better living conditions. The camp will be entirely funded by MSF and will take around four weeks to complete.

“The construction of an organised camp will of course improve the current situation”, said Pierre Henry, Director of ECRE member France terre d’asile. “We have to enable people to live in dignity, at least in a camp that would comply with international standards. It is also important that people who have applied for asylum have an effective access to reception centres, as per the law, which is not the case for the moment. Yet a country like France should not accept and get used to hosting migrants in camps; the current situation questions Europe and solidarity between European countries. It can only be dealt with jointly, not by shying away”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.