10 March 2016

Finishing the construction of a shelter in La Linière, the new camp in Grande Synthe provinding decent living conditions to the refugees.
Photo:Stephane Dubromel

Paris – The Grande-Synthe camp has the capacity to house 2,500 people. It has just opened, but is already threatened with closure. However, it should be allowed to ease, even slightly, the daily anguish of the migrants created by squalid, precarious living conditions.
Apparently not. Although the migrants urgently need decent shelter, French authorities sent a formal letter of notice to the mayor of Grande-Synthe objecting to the hasty opening of the camp, which they deem “harmful to the safety of hundreds of people.” Rather than finally taking concrete actions – many of which are their responsibility – the government has chosen to play the role of building inspector. Using standards that have not been met as a pretext, it is threatening the mayor of Grande-Synthe, emphasising the personal legal risk he faces. This elected official deserves our full support. 
The situation is not without irony. While the State was condemned in November for failing to meet its obligations, particularly in the areas of public health and emergency housing, it now seeks to punish those who are working together to address the government’s shortcomings and, finally, to offer the migrants significantly improved living conditions - an open camp, composed of solid shelters that provide privacy and meet requisite health and hygiene conditions.

A view of the camp and humanitarian workers.
Photo: Nicolas Beaudoin

Of course, much remains to be done. No one ever claimed that this new camp in Grande-Synthe would solve all problems or meet the strictest legal requirements. Rather, given the urgency of the situation, the priority was to provide shelter and ensure the minimum conditions for a decent life. It is now up to us – NGOs, aid groups, and volunteers – to take responsibility for this site, which was chosen by default. It is up to us and to the migrants themselves, with the help of the region’s residents, to turn the site into a place that can help the migrants forget, even briefly, what they have suffered for too long.
Indeed, before anyone demands that standards be complied with, we must recognize that the very policy to which migrants in France have been subjected is non-compliant and must be rejected. Reflecting the migration practices observed in Europe, at each turn French policy has followed a path leading to a disastrous end. Authorities should instead be working to immediately improve the welcome offered to people fleeing war, repression, and misery. 

The school in La Linière camp in Grande Synthe had 55 students on the second day of its opening.
Photo: Nicolas Beaudoin

The government seeks to dissuade migrants and takes a law enforcement approach. It has now also adopted an administrative and technocratic management approach, opposing those spaces set aside for migrants and an elected official who is trying to provide them a dignified welcome. The Grande-Synthe camp is threatened with closure. It may not meet the standards but one thing is certain. In France, the cynicism of the State exceeds the bounds. 
Initial signatories:

  • Amnesty International
  • Emmaüs France
  • French Red Cross
  • L’Auberge des Migrants
  • La Cimade
  • LdH – Ligue des droits de l’Homme
  • Médecins du Monde
  • Médecins Sans Frontières
  • Secours Catholique
  • Utopia 56

 Find out more about MSF in France