27th Feb 2020

French migrant camps to get upgrade

  • Migrants in the Calais "jungle" (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Migrants living in squalid conditions near Dunkirk, in northern France, will soon get water, electricity and heated tents, local authorities announced on Monday (11 January).

Under a deal with the French government, the humanitarian NGO Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) will be in charge of the construction of the new camp that should open within four weeks.

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The facilities will be built 1.5 km from where migrants, including children, are currently living in the mud in non-heated tents. The majority are Kurds coming from Syria, Iran and Iraq.

"You wouldn’t believe what it’s like here. People are living surrounded by mud and puddles of water. They are sleeping in ultra-thin tents in the middle of all this filth," an MSF official said in December when the NGO started to call for the creation of a proper camp for the migrants.

The camp population went from around 100 people at the end of the summer to between 2,500 and 3,000.

But the French government is reluctant to let people settle only 30 km from the "jungle" in Calais, where more than 4,000 people also live, in dreadful conditions, waiting to cross into the UK.

The central government would also not allow the MSF and the mayor of Grande-Synthe to improve conditions on the ground.

Last week, the leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, said that volunteers were denied access to the camp.

"The French state's refusal to allow humanitarian aid is an absolute and clear violation of international humanitarian law," Verhofstadt said in a message posted on Facebook. He added that he had written to the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to "call upon him to rectify this situation immediately".

Contacted by EUobserver, Cazeneuve's cabinet did not return a request for a reaction to Verhofstadt's accusations of a violation of international law.

Pushed to act

The announcement of a deal between the government, Grande-Synthe's mayor and MSF came as the first heated containers were delivered by authorities to migrants in Calais.

By the end of January, 1,500 people should benefit from the new accommodation under a plan agreed by the government last August when an increased number of migrants tried to force their way to Britain and clashed with the police.

More than 10 years after the closure of a camp in Sangatte, near Calais, in 2002, France is still trying to avoid the creation of large permanent migrant settlements. But the migration crisis since last summer has made the situation difficult to handle.

The French justice system has also pushed the government to act. Last November, the Council of State, France's main administrative judicial body, obliged authorities to improve sanitary conditions in the Calais jungle.

The lack of official action exposed migrants to "inhumane or degrading treatment", the judges said.

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