• France's news in English
Refugees in France
The forgotten refugee camp in northern France
Photo: Rory Mulholland

The forgotten refugee camp in northern France

The Local · 20 Oct 2015, 08:57

Published: 20 Oct 2015 08:57 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A muddy clearing in a wood, bordered on one side by the motorway leading to the ferry ports of Dunkirk and Calais and on the other by neat streets of suburban houses, is now home for Dlir Kader and his family.

The Kurd arrived at the camp in Grande-Synthe, on the outskirts of Dunkirk, this month along with his wife and four children - the youngest is his seven month-old daughter - after fleeing northern Iraq when the Islamic State (Isis) took control of his town.

The family sit in the drizzle around a small fire where they cook dinner next to the ragged tents that do little to protect them from the elements.

Like most people in this camp of between 800 and 1,000 people - most of the them Kurds - they want to go to Britain.

“Germany (which has a far more welcoming attitude to migrants than Britain) is no good for us. The language is too hard and we don’t have any relations there, like we do in England,” said Kader.

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

But he said that after their long trip through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, they had no money left to pay the people smugglers who hang around the camp and who charge hundreds and sometimes thousands of euros for help in sneaking into the back of a lorry on its way to Britain.

The settlement in Grande-Synthe has existed since 2006 but for years had fewer than 100 migrants. Since September its population has exploded.

The people smugglers decided to move some of their clients to less congested spots as Calais become over-crowded and after security at the ferry port and the Eurotunnel terminal was boosted after chaotic scenes this summer that saw hundreds of migrants try nightly to clamber onto trains heading to England.

Another camp in Téteghem, on the other side of Dunkirk, now houses around 500 migrants.

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

In another camp further inland, 300 migrants, most of them Eritreans, live in equally insalubrious conditions as they wait for their chance to get to the UK.

Other smaller camps, some with just a few dozen migrants, are dotted along the motorways leading to the coast.

"We were heading to Calais with an aid convoy but aid groups there told us to come to Grande-Synthe instead because they are getting so little help," Joby Andrews, from Bristol in England, as he prepared to leave the town to catch the ferry back to the UK.

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

He and a group of friends have set up what they call the Aid Box Convoy and earlier this month arrived in Grande-Synthe with eight vans and trailers loaded with aid.

The boxes they distributed to camp dwellers - each containing a stove, solid fuel, rice, tins of food, toiletries and a wind-up torch - were snapped up by the migrants, who also include a small group of Vietnamese nationals.

The local authorities have provided half a dozen prefabs equipped with showers and toilets, and say they will soon set up large, sturdy tents to provide better accommodation for the migrants.

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

But for the moment conditions in the camp are squalid and will worsen as the winter sets in.

Hundreds of tents are grouped around a large open space in the middle of the clearing, where a rickety goal post provides the only entertainment for the handful of children who live here.

The migrants cook on campfires or wait for warm meals that local residents bring in on an ad hoc basis.

Aid groups and doctors do make occasional visits but there is no organised structure to deal with the recent massive rise in the population.

(Photo: Rory Mulholland)

"We were set up here to help around 100 people but we are dealing with over 800," said Sylvie Cousin, of the Salam charity which is also present in the so-called “New Jungle” in Calais, which lies about 40 kilometres to the west.

Local residents are largely sympathetic to the plight of the migrants, but some are worried by the presence of hundreds of men living rough just yards from their front doors.

Story continues below…

They have sent a petition to the town mayor calling for action to stop the “intrusions into gardens, verbal aggression, gunfire, knife fights, noise night and day, and rummaging in bins” that they say is happening in their previously peaceful area.

Yet many of the migrants say they feel much safer here than in the Calais “New Jungle,” where fights often break out between the different ethnic groups living there.

For Dlir Kader, the Iraqi Kurd in Grande-Synthe with his family, the camp will do for the moment. But he is desperate to get to England one way or another as soon as he can.

“We can’t survive here in the winter,” he said.

By Rory Mulholland

SEE ALSO: The 'New Jungle' photographed from the sky


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

France joins fight for rich pickings from post-Brexit UK
Photo: AFP/DcnH/Flickr

France tries to woo EU's bank regulator and other agencies.

How speaking French can really mess up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available