Muddy Uncertainty in Dunkirk

8 images Created 19 Oct 2021

European migrant crisis in France (AlJazeera English - 2015)

Over the course of 2015, the influx of refugees seeking shelter in Europe climaxed to a never before encountered level. As much as the reasons for their journeys differ, may they be fleeing from war, poverty, violence or oppression, they all have one thing in common – they travel by foot. Distances that in the modern age are easily covered by plane or other types of transport become a major struggle. A four hour flight becomes the journey of months. And apart from that, authorities and politics further complicate their life.

Most of the refugees in northern France wish to further continue to the UK. Yet, with an increasing number of border security from both the French and the British side, including newly erected fences surrounding port, highway and tracks, many are stranded in the makeshift refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais. What for most refugees was meant as a mere place of transit slowly transforms into a permanent a place of stay.

As of mid-December 2015, the ever-growing camp in Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk, has approximately 2.500 to 3.000 inhabitants. Despite its increasing soze, the camps witnesses little to no support by national authorities or international organizations. The majority of help comes from small NGOs and volunteers or even from the refugees themselves.

Many inhabitants came from the camp in Calais but chose to rather try their luck in the much less developed but presumably safer camp in Grande-Synthe.

The camp in Grande-Synthe lies on a stretch of land surrounded by the local football stadium and a tidy suburban neighborhood. A place that was formerly designated to become an eco-village. The contrast between the prevalent conditions inside and the bourgeois scenery outside the camp seems almost surreal. The mud-covered sidewalk in front of the camp gives a foretaste of what one finds on the inside.

Lately, courageous volunteers from Belgium and Britain started constructing several shelters and even built a house for kids to play in. Though there are rumors that the government is currently planning the relocation of the camp to a yet unknown destination. In cooperation with MSF, the French government offered financial backup for the building of a more suitable and staffed camp.

Note: The story's photos and words depict the situation in mid December 2015. Things have changed since then and from what I have experienced on further trips to northern France, they continue to do so week by week.
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