Shelters removed at overcrowded refugee camp in Dunkirk

Post by Nisha, Dulwich Hamlet supporter

The organisation which runs La Linière camp, in Grande-Synthe, on the outskirts of Dunkirk, have been removing refugee shelters in a bid to reduce capacity at the camp.

The removal of shelters is part of an overall plan to reduce capacity to just 300 spaces by the end of the year, with a view to closing the camp entirely shortly after that, a move which has been condemned by MSF.

Earlier this month is was announced that new arrivals would not be admitted to the camp, with no exceptions made for particularly vulnerable people such as minors, families, pregnant women or the elderly.

Shelters being removed at La Linere. Photos via Hafsa Benbourek.

However, the camp remains overcrowded. The shelters, which were built by MSF and volunteers earlier this year, were originally intended to house four refugees each. Local volunteers have estimated that up to eight residents are living in each shelter, with some residents sleeping in porches and in community kitchens.

Overcrowding isn’t the only problem in the camp. Food is scarce and there is a lack of fuel and blankets in the camp. It’s being left to independent volunteers such as Hafsa Benbourek to raise funds to meet the residents needs.

Hafsa said: “It’s already cold in Grande-Synthe, the refugees desperately need winter essentials which are not being provided by the camp management or the government. There are refugees of all ages, including babies and pregnant women, who are cold, hungry and need help.”

With Calais camp being closed this week, there is a palpable fear that vulnerable men, women and children who arrive on the french coast in the coming days and weeks will have no choice but to sleep rough with little support from volunteers.

Franck Esnee, MSF Head of Mission in France, said:  “Blocking new arrivals from accessing the camp is all the more baffling given the impending dismantling of the Calais ‘Jungle’. Where should the refugees and migrants who come to La Linière camp go instead? This decision has been taken hastily, without thought for the consequences, and without proposing alternative solutions. All those who refuse to abandon their dream of getting to England will have to find shelter somewhere!”

Forcing people back into doorways, squats and fields of northern France means forcing them underground. It will be harder for organisations and volunteers to support them with food, clothes, blankets and other vital life saving support.

“This policy of systematically destroying existing camps and preventing the construction of new ones will lead nowhere. Without alternative plans to provide shelter, individuals, families, and even unaccompanied children, will be condemned to survive the winter as vagrants, destitute and vulnerable to violence,” said Esnee.

The French government might not want large camps such as Calais and La Linière bringing public shame and scrutiny. However, the reality is that closing these camps will lead to even more smaller encampments, smaller ‘jungles’, littered across the French countryside with increasingly desperate conditions.  As Esnee says as winter approaches this puts the lives of vulnerable people at risk. However, perhaps for the authorities out of sight is out of mind.

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