Report from visit to Dunkirk camp

Local Oxfordshire campaigner, Evelyne Godfrey, visited the migrant camp at Dunkirk and sent this letter to the Oxford Mail.

There are perhaps a thousand migrants in a camp in Dunkirk at Grande Synthe, at Exit 54a off the A16, about 10 minutes from the ferry port. They are accommodated in plywood ‘sheds’ with corrugated plastic roofs. The Dunkirk camp was originally set up by Médecins Sans Frontières‎. At the moment, Utopia 56 is the main voluntary group for the camp, but they are planning to move out to help at other migrant camps in Calais and Paris by the end of September 2016.

I had heard that the Dunkirk camp was meant to comply with UNHCR standards, and so made a visit there to deliver some donated supplies from Oxfordshire recently on 4th August 2016.

Conditions at Dunkirk are enormously better than in the Calais migrant camp that is rightly known as “the Jungle”; most likely the conditions at Dunkirk are better than in the UNHCR camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon too.

My main concern was that all the migrants seen in Dunkirk on the August 4th visit were of Middle Eastern appearance. We saw no Black people at all, whereas there were lots of Africans in Calais. No-one would choose to stay in the squalor of the Calais camp, when this clean, orderly camp was available around 30 minutes up the road, so I cannot believe the Africans themselves are deciding not to come to Dunkirk. Are sub-Saharan Africans being systematically excluded from the UNHCR-standard camp?

The French National Police seem to be controlling access to the Dunkirk camp day and night. You must speak to them to get in. We found that the National Police were helpful & friendly, but clearly frustrated at this use of their time and resources. The police behaviour we observed at the Dunkirk camp contrasts sharply with reports that have come from Calais.

Local Grande Synthe residents seem to be tolerating this camp. Generally, however, I believe there is little public sympathy in France for the migrants. As in the UK, this is the political obstacle to resolving the situation. The French are no doubt more scared of their Right-wing (e.g. Front National) winning elections than we are frightened of, for example, the BNP or UKIP.

Many small children were seen in the Dunkirk camp on August 4th;  the impression we got was that they were mostly in family groups rather than unaccompanied, although there may well be some unaccompanied teenagers.

The people at the Dunkirk camp haven’t been forced to give fingerprints or registered to stay in France. They want to come to Britain. They have family here or feel historical connections. They speak some English or think they can improve their English quickly, but can’t learn French well enough to earn a living. The French are not going to force them to file an asylum claim if they don’t want to. The French, to their credit, are also not arresting the migrants and detaining them out of public sight as is the practice in the UK.

The migrant situation in Calais & Dunkirk is a British problem to solve: these are our prospective citizens. We need to be campaigning in this country for a resolution to this crisis. UK Border officers should go into the camps and assess the asylum seekers. Humanitarian Visas should be issued for those with a strong case to come into UK – on the ferry, legally – and file any asylum claim on arrival in accordance with the law.

What can you be doing now, to help the migrants who’ve already made their way to Northern France?  Some suggestions are:

–              Campaign for introduction of a Humanitarian Visa, to let migrants from the camps at Calais and Dunkirk  into the UK for the purpose of claiming asylum

–              Contact French Social Services to ask them to take urgent action to assist children in the migrant camps. The Caritas/Secours Catholique agency could help you to get in touch with the Local Authorities. Their website is: http://pasdecalais.secours-catholique.org

–              Contact Utopia 56 about donations they need at Dunkirk. Their website is at:http://www.utopia56.com/en

–              Inform yourself about the UK Asylum process by attending local refugee-support meetings and demonstrations, for example on the last Saturday of every month at 12 noon to 2pm, Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, Langford Lane, Kidlington, OX5 1RE. The next regular demonstration will be on Saturday 24th September, at Campsfield.

Evelyne Godfrey

Uffington, Oxfordshire

 See also Convoy2Calais for information on trips delivering aid to Calais.
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One response to “Report from visit to Dunkirk camp

  1. Thanks for the piece. I spent a few weeks in the Dunkirk camp recently and visited Calais, from what I heard (though much of it is speculation I suppose), the stronger presence of smugglers and related issues are a reason why some people choose not to relocate to Dunkirk. I fully agree we must campaign for people to be assisted to cross the border or helped within the camps, if their purpose is to claim asylum.. But where to start with this?

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