Defying French Government, Aid Group Builds Refugee Camp Doctors Without Borders (MSF) built a refugee camp on the northern coast of France at the request of the local mayor. But the French national government is not happy about it.
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Defying French Government, Aid Group Builds Refugee Camp

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Defying French Government, Aid Group Builds Refugee Camp

Defying French Government, Aid Group Builds Refugee Camp

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we go to Europe, which has been struggling to manage its end of the global refugee crisis. We'll check in on a new development in France near the northern coastal city of Dunkirk. There, the French government has refused to fund a refugee camp, so Mayor Damien Careme turned elsewhere. He turned to the international medical charity MSF, known here as Doctors Without Borders.

Although the group is known mainly for providing medical care in conflict zones and under-served areas, MSF and the mayor worked together to raise funds not just to build a camp, but one that would alleviate conditions that have become notorious elsewhere.

The camp, which has been open for about two weeks, features cabins, not just tents, to protect refugees from cold weather and flooding. It also includes more showers and bathrooms. Advocates say the camp is the first in France to meet humanitarian standards, but that has set off another debate with those who fear the camp will encourage refugees to stay too long.

We wanted to hear more about the place, so we've called Angelique Muller. She's a field coordinator for MSF in the French suburb of Grande-Synthe just outside of Dunkirk, and we reached her via Skype. Hello, Angelique. Thanks for joining us.

ANGELIQUE MULLER: Welcome. Thank you, too.

MARTIN: So why did MSF agree to undertake this project?

MULLER: We agreed because it was a humanitarian emergency. When the mayor asked the government last year to support the migrants, that they were living in this quite horrific camp, the government said no. And we agreed to support because for us it was a crisis, a humanitarian crisis.

MARTIN: Do you mind sharing what some of the conditions were before that you were trying to correct?

MULLER: A lot of pregnant women, a lot of families and a lot of children that were living in the mud with not enough water, with only 44 toilets for a population - that there almost 2,500 people. Just few showers - 20, 24 showers.

MARTIN: The camp is being described as one of the first - or the first in France - built to meet international humanitarian standards. Could you describe a little bit about what that means?

MULLER: So it means that the site of the camp, it was for 2,500 people linked to the emergency of last year. So it's linked to this number that we plan to do a huge number of toilets, of showers, of water points. So it means that we have one toilet for 20 people, we have one shower for 40 people - is the standard that we are working with in all international refugee camps.

MARTIN: What do you say to those who say that it may sound harsh, but that if the conditions improved that people will have less reason to move on?

MULLER: The goals of all people there on the field in Grande-Synthe, it's to reach the U.K. It's really this. So even if you welcome them in the perfect structure - that is not the pretension and is not the case - they don't want to stay in France. They want to go in U.K. because they have family. So in all the cases, they don't want to stay.

MARTIN: That's Angelique Muller. She's a field coordinator for MSF, known as Doctors Without Borders in the U.S. We reached her via Skype in Grande-Synthe, France. Angelique, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MULLER: Thank you, too. (Speaking French).

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