France: New site required urgently for refugees in Grande-Synthe

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is poised to take action in the face of the authorities’ failure to do so by offering decent living conditions to 2,500 refugees in Grande-Synthe, France. Time is of the essence with the onset of winter and rain and the refugees continue to live ankle-deep in mud in a flood-prone area of Grande-Synthe close to Dunkirk.

Having received no response from the authorities, the mayor of Grande-Synthe asked Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to help provide the migrants with shelter from the cold and the damp and, a month ago, MSF located a site with an overall area of 25,000 square metres.

“We’re all set to rent the land, sign the lease with the owner and the town council and start getting the site ready,” says MSF emergency programme manager Laurent Sury.  “But it’s all taking time, from endless meetings with the authorities to technical issues that keep cropping up.” “Security arguments are being advanced,” he continues, “while in reality the migrants’ security is at risk at the current site. But we’re still hoping to get the go-ahead for our site.”

MSF wants to set up 500 tents – each able to accommodate five people – on the new site. The organisation has both the expertise and necessary resources and the tents are ready. The tent is one that has been used in countries such as Syria and Pakistan where the weather can also be cold. Decent sanitation and hygiene are priorities too, so sanitation facilities, showers and latrines will be provided in sufficient number. For example, whereas the current camp in Grande-Synthe has 32 latrines for 2,500 people (one per 125 people), the plan is to make available one latrine for 20 people on the new site.

Once the camp is ready, the refugees must be accommodated on a voluntary basis and be free to come and go as they please. “MSF views these conditions essential; we’re not going to set up a camp where they’ll be shut in.” says Sury.  

The town council says there are some 200 children in Grande-Synthe so, if the Prefecture does not authorise the site selected by MSF, another solution will be sought to provide accommodation at least for families and minors. “We need to move fast,” insists Sury.  “Families with children must be given shelter.”