This project involved providing learning to the children in the refugee camp of La Liniere at Grande Synthe (near Dunkirk) and also making a learning space available.
The camp of La Liniere was built in a joint project between the mayor of Grande Synthe, Damien Careme, and Medicine Sans Frontiers. The purpose of the camp was to improv the extremely unsatisfactory conditions of the previous camp of Basroch. This camp was the first official camp to be built in Europe since World War II (1945) and it was built to UN international standards for a refugee camp. When we opened for lessons in the camp on the 8th March the media reported it as the first time that schooling had taken place in an official refugee camp in Europe since the end of World War II in 1945.
During the duration of this project we maintained normally around 3 teachers on site, with numbers rising to around 8 at particular peak times. We worked in the camp from 7th March until finally withdrawing on the 31st August 2016.
We worked with around 400 children during the duration of this project. There was an extremely high turnover of children due to people smuggling, trafficking and families leaving to avoid the influence of criminal gangs in the camp. The numbers of children in the camp at any one time varied from about 300 when the camp opened to about 100 at the point where we left. At times we did a limited out-reach from the camp to unofficial free camps in the surrounding areas, but our main focus was upon providing learning within the camp.
The composition of the group of children was mainly Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish. In the Winter of 2015, Kurdish (Sorani speaking) children were in the majority. By summer 2016 there was a significantly increasing cohort of Iranian Farsi speaking children. Another phenomenon we noticed during the summer of 2016 was an increasing number of children arriving with German or French language skills due to periods of time spent in those countries before arriving at the Basroch camp.
When we started teaching in the camp our facilities consisted of two small humanitarian relief tents of about 20 square metres each. We used the tents flexibly. One was broadly used for secondary age pupils (11-18 years of age) and one for primary pupils (5-10 years of age). Both the tents were in sound condition so they were mainly dry. Due to the demand from children we rapidly outgrew this provision and ended up having to teach over-spill classes outside in the open air.
We were then loaned a large 70m square tent which had been salvaged from the previous Basroch camp. This was a very effective size for a teaching space and we had up to 50 children in it at times. However the tent was quite damaged so although it represented a gain in terms of teaching space, it represented a regress in terms of no longer having a dry classroom. Many mornings were marked by having to hang up books and/or children’s work on a line outside in order to dry it in the sun.
We were built a more substantial wooden shelter as a teaching space by
Hummingbird (Brighton Build)
. These organisations raised £15,000 and built two large wooden huts which had solar panels and could provide a small electrical current to power lights. Overall the facility was about 50 square metres and we had groups of up to between 30 and 40 children in the building at times. The buildings were watertight. We were never able to put up a formal sign for the building, due to ongoing political sensitivities about what to call the building. Words such as “school” were deemed too sensitive. When significant politicians visited the camp, all evidence of anything school related was cleared out of the building. The building carried signs at different times denoting it as a ‘recreational centre,’ a ‘cultural centre’ and as a ‘children’s centre’.