Damien Careme is the Mayor of Grand-Synthe, an area of France which is home to the unofficial Dunkirk refugee camp – one of the worst of the informal settlements that have built up along the English-French border. Its residents were living in horrific conditions. Thick, thick mud, no proper sanitation, and in leaking tents. Police regularly refused to allow volunteers onto site with pallets and blankets. The circumstances were utterly desperate. Distressed at the conditions in which people – including little children and babies – were living, the Mayor asked the French authorities for help to build a better camp. They refused. He went ahead anyway, with the help of MSF. And so now, the refugees are slowly moving into wooden huts, on dry land, with proper blocks of toilets and showers. Already, the French authorities are pressuring Careme to shut the camp, worried that it will become a more permanent settlement, and encourage migrants to live there. So far he is undeterred. Whilst building wooden huts on waste ground is far from a proper solution to the migrant crisis, the Mayor of Grand-Synthe deserves a big round of applause for what he has done to try and make the lives of the Dunkirk refugees a bit more comfortable.
You can read more from Al Jazeera here.
(And yes, I use ‘migrant’ where others argue we should always and only use ‘refugee’. I understand their reasons, but many of those involved in migrant support on the ground suggest that this reasoning sets up and reinforces the idea of ‘good’ refugees and ‘bad’ migrants, when in reality, those classed as, say, ‘economic migrants’ are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in conditions of extreme global inequality.)