Help Refugees signed the joint statement on the Grande Synthe Refugee Camp crisis

Help Refugees have signed our name to this important press release – the result of a collaboration between grassroots organisations and volunteers working in Dunkirk. We are extremely concerned about the conditions within the Dunkirk camp and believe action to resolve the issues is urgently needed.

The photos accompanying this post are ones taken by Help Refugees volunteer Eamonn in the camp at the start of December. He sent them over with an update saying –

The situation in the camp is now worse than at the start of December. The rain has led to more mud, which is constantly churned up under foot. It is always cold and impossible to get rid of the chill in your bones. More and more refugees are falling ill. We see dead rats in the camp all the time – the conditions are really unsanitary and it is a terrible place to be. It is so difficult to see the looks on children’s faces and know that they are cold and suffering. No one would chose to live here unless where they are coming from is much, much worse.

You can help us by donating to the Dunkirk Grande-Synthe fund –

Conditions in the Grande Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk, December 2015 (1)

A joint statement on the Grande Synthe Refugee Camp crisis.

In recent months, the refugee camp in Grande Synthe, Dunkirk, has grown at a startling rate: more than 2000 refugees are now living there in severe conditions and dire need of assistance, which is being restricted by the local authorities.

Among the residents are approximately 300 children aged between 2 months and 17 years, 150 women and men of all ages. Many are fleeing persecution, violence, war and terror.

In a report from the camp, aid worker Maddie Harris said, “There are huge numbers of people who have lost friends and family in their countries of origin, their only way to find safety is now to live in squalor.”

This month, the weather has worsened and the temperature has dropped, making the need for aid even greater. But restrictions on those trying to provide shelter and aid are preventing the situation from being mitigated. The most urgent concerns are the inadequacy of temporary tents and shelters for new arrivals, lack of food and sanitation, and increasingly serious medical issues.

Calais Action’s Libby Freeman said, “The site in Dunkirk is far below the UN minimum standards for a refugee camp. In all the places I’ve worked around Europe during the crisis I’ve not seen such terrible conditions. This is truly on our doorstep and cannot be overlooked any longer.”

Conditions in the Grande Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk, December 2015 (1)

Two weeks ago a new by-law was passed which forbids the entry of tents, building materials of any kind (even including, on certain occasions, tarpaulins and blankets), and wood larger than roughly 30cm in length. The gendarmerie guarding the camp’s entrance have been obstructing entry of those carrying these vital supplies, with decisions about what is permitted and what is banned often appearing arbitrary.

Following an appeal to the Mayor we have now been told that we can expect permission to deliver small tents and pallets. This has not materialised yet, and regardless- much more needs to be done to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

We continue to face obstructions on all sorts of aid- from tents to sleeping bags, pallets and firewood.

The poor quality of accommodation has led to dampness of clothing and bedding, endangering health conditions, which have been further exacerbated by a lack of adequate nutrition. Health risks are clear, with only one wash station in the entire camp and only cold water available. There are currently 20 toilets (1 for every 150 people) and 8 taps (1 for every 375 people).

There are currently no hand-washing facilities near the portaloo toilets situated in the middle of the camp, posing a clear health risk. Scabies, chest infections and psychological trauma, especially among children, are also hitting dangerous peaks. There appears to be a high number of unaccompanied minors in the camp, many of whom have families living in the UK.

Conditions in the Grande Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk, December 2015 (1)

The situation in the Grand Synthe Camp is bleak, but it could be vastly and effectively improved with simple concessions from the French authorities regarding restriction of resources, along with an injection of funds and expertise. Direct action can make all the difference, but the situation is increasingly urgent, and demands the world’s focus and attention.

The French minister of the Interior, and the Préfet du Nord and Préfet du Pas de Calais met this week to discuss the camp. The Minister of the Interior said that both the Dunkirk and Calais camps have to be emptied by the end of March. A new camp has been proposed but with the site not yet confirmed and construction not yet begun, we believe a realistic completion is at least 2 months away, meaning that winter will be seen out in the current conditions.

In its report of October 2015 about the Calais camp, the French Defender of Rights highlights a number of violations of Human Rights by the French Authorities. Moreover, the French Administrative High Court (Conseil d’Etat) ruled in November 2015 that the living conditions in the Calais slum expose migrants to inhuman and degrading treatments. All these judgements apply to the Grande Synthe situation.

In order to prevent a humanitarian disaster, volunteers on the ground URGENTLY need:

  • The restrictions regarding tents overturned.
  • Aid workers allowed in immediately to deliver as a means of combating the damp
  • A functioning local warehouse built, staffed and fully funded staffed, including space to communicate the tasks in hand, and to act as a central hub for volunteers.
  • Better sanitation solutions
  • A steady supply of the right kind of aid, including food, or funding to help us buy it.
  • Increased medical cover, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Funding and resources to build appropriate accommodation
  • Safe passage for refugees heading to meet family in the UK

We, the undersigned organisations, urge international focus and action on this emerging situation. The restrictions on delivery of vital materials for shelter and safety must be overturned, and we urgently request funding and resources, both in financial terms and in volunteer manpower. We are ready to deliver aid immediately.


Calais Action
The Common Good Collective
Help Refugees
The Worldwide Tribe
Pants to Poverty
The Hummingbird Project
Maddie Harris
Rowan George Farrell, Jungle Books
Baroness Shas Sheehan, Liberal Democrats
Lord Roger Roberts, Liberal Democrats
Caroline Gregory
Phoenix Clough

Over 20,000 people have signed a Care2 petition in less than 24 hours demanding that aid be let into the camp. Petition author Jenny, speaking on behalf of The Hummingbird Project, says, “I hope this growing public support for the refugees in the Grande Synthe will show the French authorities that they need to act now and let aid in”.  The petition can be signed here.

Photos are available here (please credit James Fisher)

A full report on conditions in the camp is available here.

We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.

Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!