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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Réfugiés. Grande-Synthe, les raisons de l’embrasement

by Camille Bauer

Grande-Synthe. The Causes of the Fire

Translated Thursday 20 April 2017, by Alec Shea

Because of a lack of government investment, conditions in the camp have degraded, causing tensions that resulted in a man-made fire on Monday

What will become of the refugee camp at Grande-Synthe and its inhabitants? Arson, which followed a brawl between Afghans and Iraqi Kurds, destroyed 70% of the Linière refugee camp on Monday. The ministers of the Interior and Ecology arrived yesterday afternoon to organize the resettlement of some 1400 now homeless migrants. Because of the emergency, three local gymnasiums have been opened. Between 400 and 500 migrants took refuge in them on Monday and Tuesday night while the authorities attempted to locate the others, who have since become scattered. The Prefect of the Nord Department, Michel Lalande, also promised an acceleration of departures to CAO’s (Centers of Reception and Orientation), locations aimed at offering temporary housing to migrants while they complete their requests for Asylum.

The task will not be easy “In reality, some CAO’s that were provisionally set up in resorts or hotels will have to be reopened to the public. For several weeks, the authorities did not have the ability to offer anything other than entry into Grande Synthe,” notes Mathieu Quinette, who works for France de Médecins du Monde (MDM). According to him, more than 200 people in the camp requested - unsuccessfully requested - for several weeks, to be transferred to CAO’s. Today, he is not really surprised by the situation “It’s sad to say, but when we put people in a situation like this, with the mixing of different groups under difficult conditions, circumstances come together for outbursts like this.”

For a month, his organization has denounced the increasingly poor conditions in the Linière camp. The state of the habitations has progressively declined. Because of the dismantling of the “Jungle” in Calais this autumn and the absence of other reception sites in the region, the population of the Linière camp has exploded. After last October, it grew from 700 people to around 1700, and many more were not counted because they never officially entered the camp.

The creation of the Linière camp in March of 2016 occurred against the wishes of the French government. Faced with the catastrophic living conditions of migrants living on the outskirts of the town, the EELV1 Mayor, Damien Carême, decided, along with the NGO Doctors Without Borders, to construct an emergency refugee camp that met international standards. After this had been done, the government took over the management of the camp in May of 2016, without ever sufficiently funding it.

The fate of the Linière camp resulted in another change of management when the then Minister of the Interior, Bruno Le Roux, unilaterally announced that it would close. In light of the opposition from the Mayor and public outcry, the government backed away from this plan. The Housing Minister, Emmanuelle Cosse, arrived on the scene to renew the partnership between the national government, the mayoralty and the management association with 3 million euros of funding and reiterated his goal of reducing the number of the camp’s inhabitants to 700.

“The problem today is the overwhelming sense of unpreparedness,” Pierre Henry, General Director of France Terre d’Asile told AFP. While thousands of migrants have been present in the Dunkirk region for twelve years and ongoing conflicts have increased requests for asylum, the government, guided by fear of public opinion, has not developed a coherent policy for managing arrivals. Like many other groups, the Cimade reiterated yesterday its request that the government “create humanitarian shelters along the coastline.” A kind of front-line network that could offer medical psychosocial care and legal assistance with the goal of directing migrants to CAO’s. It is an idea which, for the time being, contrasts with the government and certain local elected officials, according to whom these aid centers should be nothing more than “fixed points” at the origin of the influx of migrants. For his part, Mayor Damien Carême presented yesterday the possibility of reconstructing a reception center, potentially with tents, and called Mayors across France “to solidarity,”

(1) Europe Ecology The Greens, An Ecologist Political Party

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