Refugees Judge New French Camp Not Up To Standards

Photo: Anadolu Agency
Photo: Anadolu Agency

Grande – Synthe, France,  3 Jumadil Akhir 1437/12 March 2016 (MINA) – After been evacuated from the muddy camp in Basroch, northern France, refugees who were moved to a camp built by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) near Grande-Synthe feel “disillusioned” at what it is supposed to be the first humanitarian camp in France “meeting international standards”.

The new camp of 213 small wooden cabins, standing 40 km from the “Jungle” camp in Calais, has been inhabited since last week by a thousand refugees mainly coming from Kurdish areas in Syria and Iraq. It has the capacity to house up 2,500 people, Anadolu Agency quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.

The refugees have been given access to winter clothing, equipment to protect them from the cold, and hot meals. Some even have areas to charge their cellphones and also proper showers and toilets, yet very few want to stay in France, they told Anadolu Agency.

MSF says local associations are working on setting up kitchens, a school, and a playground “as the Grande-Synthe camp’s population includes many families and approximately 100 children”.

For many, France is a transit point, but Britain is the goal, much like their 5,500 fellow refugees in the Calais “Jungle” camp.

But the residents of the Grande-Synthe camp have none of the stores, restaurants, or entertainment areas they had enjoyed in the Jungle.

International standards ‘soaked in the mud’

Anadolu Agency met Iraqi refugee Mourad, 38, at a covered area of the camp, transformed by some refugees into a spot to buy cigarette and hot drinks. It is Grande-Synthe’s main area for socialization.

Formerly a translator at an international company in Shaqlawah, northern Iraq, Mourad left the city five months ago and left his family in Turkey. Like thousands of other refugees in the region, his only goal is to reach Britain.

Mourad still sleeps in the tent that he used in Basroch even though sleeping outside cabins is forbidden.

“These cabins are designed for chickens, not human beings,” he complains. “We are supposed to stay in this shed that looks like a chicken coop. Four people are expected to live in a single shed that could barely accommodate one.”

Pointing at the hems of his pants, soaked in mud, Mourad said, “Everything is covered with mud. It is freezing cold in the sheds. Can we really speak of international standards?”

Hassan, a 34-year-old Iraqi geologist, says he also wants to reach Britain, not stay in France.

“France is a beautiful country, but we have no chance to live humanely in this country where we are judged worthy of such camps. I have my brother and my friends in the UK. They are happy with their lives there. They can at least have access to work and live with dignity,” he says.

In order to reach the UK, refugees pay a hefty price (5,000 pounds per person) to smugglers who hide them later in pipes to cross the Channel.

Refugees tell us that sneaking in was easier until six months ago. Now police dogs and barbed wire around the railroads that leads to the Chunnel have made their task almost impossible.

Justin Bieber poster: ‘A symbol of hope’

As we walked around the camp, a poster of U.S. pop star Justin Bieber on one of the cabins got our attention.

Fasih, 22, a young Kuwaiti who lived in Syria before reaching Europe, lives in the shed. Telling us the history behind this poster, Fasih says he bought it from a shop in Calais to please his sister.

“I don’t like Justin Bieber but my sister is a big fan. Seeing the poster gives me hope and laughs to all the passers-by. Laughter is perhaps what we need the most over here,” he says.

The young man, who dropped out of school when war erupted in Syria, hopes to continue his education in England.

“I don’t have wacky dreams,” he says. “I dream of an ordinary life. A life that allows me to get decent work after my studies. A life that allows me to start a family and live like others,” he adds with a big smile on his face.

Then posing with a pillow with the “smiley face” icon, Fasih says he wishes the world and governments would “judge us as human beings, not as migrants”.

“We all had a life before this misery. Help us rebuild our lives,” concludes the young man.

Threats of closure

Less than a week of settling down in the MSF camp, the refugees are facing evacuation from their new homes. French authorities claim the camp would “threaten the safety of hundreds of people” and isn’t up to construction standards.

In a statement published on the MSF website signed by several humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International, the French Red Cross, and Doctors of the World, the group of NGOs denounced the “extraordinary cynicism” of the French state which sent a warning letter notice to the municipality of Grande-Synthe on the “hasty” opening of the camp.

“Rather than finally taking concrete actions – many of which are their responsibility – the government has chosen to play the role of building inspector,” the NGOs said.
They warned that French authorities are seeking “to dissuade migrants and takes a law enforcement approach”.

“The Grande-Synthe camp is threatened with closure. It may not meet the standards, but one thing is certain. In France, the cynicism of the state exceeds the bounds,” concluded the statement. (T/P010/R07)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)