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Mayor defies Paris to open new refugee camp as Jungle demolition resumes

Grande-Synthe has built a new camp for refugees in direct opposition to the official French government policy
An association member walks past the France's first-ever refugee camp to meet international humanitarian standards for migrants and refugees on 7 March 2016 in Grande-Synthe, northern France (AFP)

France saw its first international-standard refugee camp open in the teeth of official opposition on Monday while demolition continued at the nearby Calais "Jungle" camp.

Three families of Iraqi Kurds were the first to arrive at the new camp in Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk on the northern French coast, an AFP reporter said.

They came from another site nearby where around 1,000 people have been living in miserable conditions with limited protection from the cold.

The new camp, featuring some 200 heated wooden cabins and proper toilets and showers, has been built by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) with the support of the local town hall, despite opposition from the French government.

The 3.1 million euro ($3.4 million) migrant accommodation is thought to be the first in France to meet international standards, and MSF said it hoped soon to have 375 cabins, catering for 2,500 people.

"It's a great day for human solidarity," said local mayor Damien Careme, who fought a battle with the authorities. 

"I've overcome a failure of the state," he said, adding that he could no longer stand the sight of around 75 children living in the original camp.

The move has frustrated the government which has been trying to move refugees away from the northern coast and into centres where their movement is more controlled. 

The government's representative in northern France, Jean-Francois Cordet, said last month: "The government's policy is not to reconstitute a camp at Grande-Synthe, but to make it go away."

Line of riot police 

The authorities began a second week of demolition at the region's largest refugee camp, nicknamed the "Jungle", in nearby Calais on Monday. 

Thousands of migrants have been living in the Jungle and other smaller camps along the northern coast, desperate to reach Britain where many have family or community ties and see better hopes of gaining employment or education.

Most have turned down offers from the French government to move into heated containers alongside the Jungle, or into accommodation centres elsewhere in France, fearing doing so would end their dreams of reaching Britain.

Unlike these alternatives, the new camp at Grande-Synthe will not restrict the movement of migrants and refugees, MSF said.

In Calais, a group of children tried to offer white roses to the line of riot police holding back migrants and volunteers as workers resumed the dismantling of makeshift shelters in the Calais camp.

Nine Iranians who last week stitched their mouths shut in protest at the demolition, said they were carrying out a hunger strike. 

Some two hectares of the Jungle were destroyed last week, and authorities said it could take a month or more to demolish the southern half of the camp. 

Local authorities say there were between 800 and 1,000 migrants living in the southern half, while aid groups say there were around 3,500.

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