France's Efforts to Close New Camp are a Cynical Evasion of Responsibility

Raphaël Etcheberry/MSF

PARIS/NEW YORK—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recently constructed a new site for migrants and refugees who were living in the mud and cold at the Basroch camp in Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk in northern France. The new camp has the capacity to house 2,500 people, but it is already being threatened with closure by French authorities.

Although the migrants urgently need decent shelter, French authorities sent a formal letter to the mayor of Grande-Synthe objecting to the opening of the camp, which they deem "harmful to the safety of hundreds of people."

The new camp should be allowed to ease the hardship of migrants in squalid, precarious living conditions, according to MSF and numerous other aid agencies and human rights organizations in France, which issued a joint statement criticizing the French government’s actions.

The statement says, in part:

Rather than finally taking concrete actionsmany of which are their responsibilitythe 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, emphasizing 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 conditionsan open camp, composed of solid shelters that provide privacy and meet requisite health and hygiene conditions.

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 usNGOs, aid groups, and volunteersto 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 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, it is the cynicism of the State that is now out of line.

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

This update can be found online here. The original statement can be found online, in French, here.

Read More About MSF's Work With Refugees

Moving to the new camp.
Raphaël Etcheberry/MSF