France: Camps Must Offer Refugees Shelter, Not Turn Them Away

Charles Habib

On Thursday, July 7, six Afghan men were refused entry to the migrant camp in Grande-Synthe, France. Set up in March 2016, the camp was constructed to offer shelter to all refugees in need of safe lodging and basic services. The town council that manages the site in partnership with the French government and the camp manager, the French aid organization AFEJI, now say that men traveling alone will not be allowed access to the camp. This decision comes amid growing pressure put on refugees by authorities in north France. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is extremely concerned about this decision and calls for it to be immediately overturned.

"Eighty percent of people here in the camp are men traveling alone," explains MSF head of mission Franck Esnée. "By denying them access to the camp, the authorities in charge of running it are negating its very purpose, which is to provide migrants with decent living conditions, regardless of who they are."

This is not the first time refugees attempting to enter the Grande-Synthe camp have been turned away. Between June 22 and July 2 alone, MSF documented 34 migrants – including three minors, one disabled man, and one pregnant woman – who were initially denied access to the site. These migrants were turned away by the camp’s manager, the AFEJI, even though there was enough space to accommodate new arrivals. Additionally, local government officials posted a letter in the camp, threatening to evict migrants if they stayed too long. This goes against the founding principles of the camp that MSF constructed in partnership with the Grande-Synthe mayor.

MSF calls on the French government to overturn this decision and instate a real policy of assistance to migrants in the north of France. MSF stresses that this camp must remain open to migrants seeking refuge. No restrictions of entry should be put into place if the limitations on the camp's capacity have not been reached.

Restricting entry to the camp will have disastrous consequences for migrants in need of assistance. Alongside the numerous volunteers and partner organizations that work in the camp, MSF is determined to prove that an alternative policy for receiving and welcoming refugees exists.

MSF staff members inside Grande-Synthe Camp.
Charles Habib