Doctors Without Borders/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 some 2,500 refugees in Grande-Synthe, northern France. Time is of the essence. With the onset of winter and rain, the refugees—mostly Kurds from Iraq, Iran, and Syria—continue to live ankle-deep in mud in a flood-prone camp near Dunkirk.
Having received no response from the authorities, the mayor of Grande-Synthe asked MSF to help provide the refugees with shelter from the cold and the damp. One month ago, MSF located an acceptable 25,000 square-meter site. "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 program 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, while in reality [it is] the migrants’ security at risk at the current site," says Sury. "But we’re still hoping to get the go-ahead for our site." MSF hopes to set up 500 climate-appropriate tents—each with capacity to accommodate five people—on the new site. The organization has both the expertise and necessary resources and the tents are ready.
Decent sanitation and hygiene are priorities too, so sanitation facilities, showers, and latrines will be provided in sufficient numbers. Whereas the current camp in Grande-Synthe has 32 latrines for 2,500 people, MSF plans to provide one latrine for every 20 people at 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 as essential; we’re not going to set up a camp where they’ll be shut in," says Sury. The Grande-Synthe town council says there are some 200 children in the camp, so, if the site proposed by MSF is not approved, another solution will be sought to provide accommodation for at least families and minors. "We need to move fast," insists Sury. "Families with children must be given shelter."