Letter from NGOs - Grande Synthe: an extraordinary cynicism

As a result of the letter of "mise en demeure" (a legal letter requiring some action from the recipient) addressed to the mayor of Grand Synthe and enjoining him under pain of legal action to "legalise" (close down for not being in accord with regulations) the new camp in Grand Synthe, built by MSF and volunteer associations, and in which the migrants may finally find what they need to live under humane conditions, Medecins Sans Frontières and several other NGOs have co-signed a text denouncing the attitude of the French authorities, whose cynicism has now reached unprecedented heights. 

With space for 2500 people, the camp at Grand Synthe, which has only just opened, is now menaced with closure. And yet, its purpose is to provide migrants, who have until now been living in utterly inhuman surroundings, some slight relief from the daily suffering they experience as a result of these precarious, insalubrious and uncertain living conditions.

But what does the State care about this... In spite of the urgency of the need to provide decent shelter for the migrants, the French authorities choose instead to send a legal letter to the Mayor of Grand Synthe, denouncing the speed at which the new camp has been constructed, which they call "prejudicial to the security of hundreds of people". 

Instead of finally engaging in some concrete action to improve a situation that is in many ways their responsibility, here is the State putting itself forward as "inspector of building works". Under the pretext that the regulations have not been followed, they threaten the Mayor of Grand Synthe personally, and make a point of the legal risk that he, as an individual, is running by allowing the new, and much more liveable, camp to exist. We would like here to announce our complete support for the mayor of Grand Synthe.  

The situation is not without irony: while the State itself was condemned in November for having failed to fulfil its obligations, specifically those relating to public health and urgent provision of shelter, it is now punishing the very people who have come together and made a huge effort in order to relieve some of the trouble caused by the State's inaction, and who have finally offered the migrants genuine improvements in their living conditions: an open camp, composed of more solid and private shelters, with the appropriate sanitary and hygienic provision. 

Certainly, much remains to be done. This new camp was never supposed to have solved every problem, nor to conform to the strictest possible legal requirements In this emergency, it was necessary first to provide shelter for people, and to ensure them the minimum conditions for a decent existence. We, the NGOs, Aid Associations and volunteers, are the ones to whom falls the task of making this space, which has come into existence by default, into something liveable.  It's up to us and to the migrants themselves, with the help of the people who live in the region, to make of the camp a place where the migrants may forget for a time the suffering they have been experiencing for too long.  

Because before the State demands respect for the norms of building regulations, it should consider its own policies and the effect they have on migrants in France - these policies remain outside the norms, and must imperatively be renounced. Reflecting the approaches to migration adopted across Europe,  French policy is increasingly disastrous where it should aim, on the contrary, for an urgent mobilisation to improve the welcome offered to people fleeing from war, repression or destitution. 

Now the management of the problem using a dissuasive and criminal/police approach has been joined by a technocratic and administrative attack on the spaces dedicated to migrants, and on an elected representative who has attempted to welcome them with human dignity. The camp at Grand Synthe is under threat of closure. One thing is certain: In France, the cynicism of the State now goes beyond acceptable limits.

First signatories :

ADRA Dunkerque, AMiS Téteghem, Amnesty International, la Cimade, Coeur solidaire, Coordination Sud, la Croix Rouge française, Emmaüs France, le GISTI, L’Auberge des Migrants, la Ligue des droits de l’Homme, LDH EHESS, Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières, le MRAP (comité local de dunkerque), Salam, le Secours Catholique, Utopia 56, Aid Box Convoy.

Translated into English by Caroline Kraabel