GRANDE-SYNTHE, FRANCE – Doctors Without Borders did something in France on Monday that aid groups normally do in much poorer, more troubled places: opened a humanitarian camp for migrants.
More than 1,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have been living in squalid shelters in a muddy field near the English Channel shore, hoping to sneak across to Britain. Local authorities say the number includes 74 children.
About 150 people abandoned the camp in Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, to move Monday to wooden sheds with access to toilets and electricity built nearby by Doctors Without Borders, spokesman Samuel Hanryon said.
Families pushed luggage and piled bags on buses taking them across town to the new site. The aid group, known by its French acronym MSF, hopes hundreds more will join them in the coming days.
The move is part of efforts to improve conditions for thousands of migrants who have converged on northern France amid Europe’s migrant crisis.
It’s MSF’s first such camp in France — a sign of how bad things have become for the migrants in Grande-Synthe, whose camp is even more rudimentary than one dubbed the “Jungle” in nearby Calais.
The €2.5 million site at Grande-Synthe comprises 4-person sheds and access to showers, kitchens and electricity.
A few police guarded the area but did not take part in Monday’s move.
In Calais, authorities are gradually evicting residents of part of the “Jungle” and trying to get them to seek asylum in France or move to cleaner container facilities. A few Calais migrants came to the new MSF site Monday, Hanryon said.
Hundreds of Calais merchants and residents, meanwhile, converged on Paris on Monday to seek government help because the local economy has suffered amid the migrant crisis. A presidential adviser announced a new hotline to help struggling Calais businesses.