This week has seen a lot of movement in the camp at Dunkirk. Several long standing families left and a few new families joined the camp. Rather surprisingly many of the new families seem to have come to the camp from attempts to take asylum in France or Germany which have broken down, rather than coming directly to the camp from places such as Syria, Iran or Kurdistan. We’re getting used to seeing all types of people, from all sorts of backgrounds turning up as refugees. But even with that in mind, we were recently surprised to meet a recent former beauty queen from the conflict regions turning up as a refugee in the camp.
We were anxious at the beginning of the week because one of our unaccompanied minors suddenly disappeared. The gangs had been targeted him, trying to get him to carry out criminal tasks for them, and then telling him that failure to do so meant that he ‘owed’ them increasing sums of money. When he disappeared we were very worried in case any harm had come to him. So we were extremely relieved when he turned up at the end of the week saying that he had just gone to live rough for a while in order to escape the attention of the gangs in the camp. We keep flagging up the absurd situation of unaccompanied minors like this. One was even featured in a news bulletin seen by around 10 million people, about a month ago. But nothing seems to improve for these children.
Very unusually this week we were asked if we could help a former camp family who had gone to England and encountered a range of serious difficulties affecting their children. We do not usually get contacted by families who have left the camp. But this family had reported directly to the police in England and acted fully lawfully. We were therefore happy to be contacted by them and we did what we could to help alleviate the problem affecting their children.
We hosted visits from a number of French teachers this week. They are local teachers who are keen to engage with the camp, in order to build up a relationship with the children ready for September lessons in the French schools. Whenever the French teachers are here we prioritise their work and activities, as it is essential that we ensure as much support for the children’s transition into the French schools. The children continue to talk positively and enthusiastically about transition to the French schools and we are enjoying continuing to work with the French teachers to promote it. With more French activities planned for August we are also increasingly conscious that there would be merit in closing down our own activities, so that the children can focus on the French programmes with undivided attention. For this reason we are now tentatively planning for Friday 5th August to be our last day in the camp at La Liniere. We have informed the mayor that we can be flexible, if he would prefer a later date.
It will be a sad day to finish and no longer work with the children who we have built relationships with. But one of our key objectives has always been to do what we think is in the children’s best interests. With the French local community now fully engaged and keen to integrate the children into mainstream schools, this means that the children can access a greater range of educational opportunities than can be made available in the camp. But far more importantly, with the French schools now getting involved this can dramatically improve child protection. We have watched a lot of children go missing over the last few months and no organisations have seemed very interested. With the children now going on to formal French school registers, this is going to make a big difference to child protection. A child who disappears from a legal register in a French state school has a very different status than an unknown invisible child who goes missing from a refugee camp. With this in mind we see it as a moral imperative to bring our work at Grande Synthe to a close now, so that there can be no reason for children to remain in the camp, rather than engage with the French schools and thus gain the protection afforded by being on legal registers.