JANUARY 13, 2016—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began work today on a new site for refugees in the northern French community of Grande-Synthe, where the lack of adequate shelter for refugees has left thousands of people out in the cold.
“There are now more than 2,500 people in Grande-Synthe sleeping in appalling, unsanitary conditions, in the mud, wet and cold,” said André Jincq, MSF deputy program manager. “They must be offered shelter and a more acceptable living environment.”
The mayor of Grande-Synthe, which is near Dunkirk, turned to MSF because the town council’s requests to the government for help were left unanswered and the number of new arrivals was increasing fast.
While there were 800 people sleeping in rough conditions at the site at the beginning of October, their number has risen to 2,500 in recent weeks. Most are Kurds waiting to cross to the U.K., including many families with about 250 children, some of whom are very young.
Entirely funded by MSF and costing the state nothing, it is not a government-owned camp. The work will take about a month, installing 500 winterized tents (each accommodating five people), hot-water showers and sufficient latrines. MSF will also continue to provide medical care.
Despite the urgency of the situation, it was delayed as authorities raised concerns about technical issues, such as the risk of fire. Ironically, this risk is all too present at the current site where the only way for the refugees to keep warm is with wood fires and makeshift heaters. MSF has treated refugees at the site for burn injuries.The technical aspects were finally resolved to the satisfaction of all those concerned on January 11.
Once the camp is installed, the refugees will be accommodated on a voluntary basis and will be free to come and go as they please.
“We view this as essential,” Jincq said. “We’re not setting up a camp to shut the refugees in but to offer them a space to help them get through the winter in more decent and humane conditions.”