Save a humane place on this journey of exile

The president, Philippe da Costa, paid a two-day visit to Hautes-de-France on May 12 and 13 to meet with the Mobile Support System for Exiles (DMSE) team, but also to assess the situation for himself at the Calais and Grande-Synthe camps. Two regions, two different realities, where human space still has very little space.


You went to an informal camp in Calais and to the main camp in Grande-Synthe. Do you keep an eye out?

I first wanted to go to an informal camp in Calais and I must say that I was immediately confronted with reality as I reached the end of an expedition to break up the camp by the forces of command. Immigrants were waiting outside the camp and I saw the work of our volunteers to meet them. Most people abandoned their tents and gear. The Mobile Support System for Refugees (DMSE), which intervenes in the Calais camp each week, immediately went to meet with them to talk to them and assess their needs. In particular, the team provided their telephone, which is often the only link for these people to their loved ones. I have been able to talk to several of them myself. I saw how much they trusted us. This belief is due to the dedication and kindness of our volunteers.

How will the volunteers deal with this situation?

Hauts-de-France is a historic crossing point between France and the United Kingdom. The French Red Cross is a major collaborating actor in the region and especially dynamic. I would like to express my pride in the commitment of the local units in Calais and Dunkirk wherever I went. They have shared this migratory reality year after year. I have talked a lot with the volunteers, as well as with the volunteers involved in the DMSE system. They are aware that the Red Cross provides essential and unconditional assistance to a highly vulnerable population, including the poorest, including children and families. In Grande-Synthe, where the main camp is more well-organized than in Calais, the living conditions are very Spartan. There is a big problem of cleanliness and access to water, there is no garbage collection … the only existing organization is the smugglers. In my opinion, the basic needs of a camp should be met. I come back to the need to preserve access to human space. We must help vulnerable people and therefore have access to sites. Today, at the entrance to Calais Camp, a block of cement prevents our vehicles from entering … This situation is not really understandable.

In this context, how do we intervene? Can we do better?

DMSE is a national system that has already evolved over the years and it still needs to evolve. One of the challenges today is the need for all actors to work together on the issue of immigration: volunteers, volunteers involved in DMSE, employees of our organization, and regions that conduct national strategies. The evening organized at the local unit in Dunkirk, when I arrived, also allowed for meetings and exchanges between all the volunteers in the area. It was a very rewarding moment for all of us, I believe.

What does DMSE actually do?

DMSE today relies on three flagship actions: Family Link Restoration – which I mentioned above and which is an important mission for uprooted people – health and support for unaccompanied minors. Regarding health, I let you imagine all the mental and physical suffering related to deportation! Dental problems, pain in legs and joints, skin problems, not to mention the women who gave birth on the way to exile … Our activities are conducted in a well-equipped truck at the entrance to the Grande Synth camp. Through therapeutic relationships, a moment of intimacy and reunion with the long-forgotten, humiliated body is played out, for the benefit of a single purpose: to reach the UK. This truck is a first relay where two nurses provide first aid and arrange for the transfer of patients to the common law system if their condition requires it. In 2021, more than 3,600 were consulted.

Finally, over the past year, we have continued a specific mission on behalf of unaccompanied minors.

A team consisting of a manager-referee, an educator and volunteers, supported by an interpreter, builds relationships with the youngest, at risk of exploitation and other forms of violence. Socio-educational activities are offered for them. The robbers organize to meet them and a day’s reception allows them to benefit from a warm shelter. It is important to recreate a cocoon of expression and an educational relationship. For these young people who are a symbol of weakness on the path to exile, this protection is nothing! Thus in 2021 800 minors were supported by this system, but we need to find other solutions in the field of child protection in the coming years. We’re just getting started.

How would you comment condemning the difference in treatment between these immigrants and those fleeing Ukraine?

For us, the French Red Cross, the unconditional acceptance of the reception takes precedence over any other consideration. We make no difference between one and the other. This is because the French state commissioned us to provide shelter and emergency assistance to people fleeing Ukraine. What we do today, within the framework of an exceptional collection and a specific mission, must serve our actions to all audiences, be capitalized, and allow us to improve our practice. But there is a lesson to be learned from this situation. All men and women fleeing violence should benefit from the same humanity, the same protection. I firmly believe that immigration problems are before us. These are concerns for all Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Europe because we are in the process of deportation for many immigrants and are therefore particularly concerned. The consequences of the Ukrainian crisis will be felt in the economic and food sectors in the coming months and will increase the flow of migrants. The situation will get worse with the global climate crisis and other conflicts.

At the forefront of our international movement, immigrants are present from one end of the journey to the other. Therefore, we have a responsibility to further cooperate, especially in the European and international arenas, in line with the international strategy of the International Federation on Migration implemented in 2018.

I repeat, having had the opportunity to speak at a joint forum with the British Red Cross a few months ago, two things must show the way for our action: a humanitarian response consistent with the plight of people in exile and more protective international law. This applies to France and I will probably have the opportunity to raise these questions with the new government, living by image and face in Hautes-de-France.

Leave a Comment