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Médecins du Monde’s position on migration
Dr Françoise Sivignon

Key word: Point of view /

“Open the doors” [1]. This is the title of the exhibition that Médecins du Monde put on in October 2015 at the Place de la République in Paris for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It showed portraits of personalities, some well-known, others less so, expressing solidarity with migrants: they came from Algeria, Ivory Coast, Thailand, and Syria, and were of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. For more than thirty years our political convictions and our actions have been based on this open and non-discriminatory approach, under-scored by continuous advocacy in favour of the most vulnerable people’s rights and ability to receive medical care. Médecins du Monde is present all along the migratory routes: from the conflict zones, via Greece, to Calais, our position resolutely based on solidarity.

Our programmes, which combine medical and social activities and a rights-based approach, mean that we have solid foundations and legitimacy to tackle these questions: Médecins du Monde provides care, bears witness and continually confronts public authorities about violations of fundamental rights and the non-application of the law, our objectives being both humanitarian and political. As such, the recent influx of migrants in Europe has not changed our position: it has simply intensified our demands and made it more urgent to take action.

 What Médecins du Monde wants

We want the authorities to provide people with decent conditions when they arrive: people should to be informed properly and should be able to calmly exercise their rights, notably the right to ask for asylum and to meet their basic needs. This simply means applying the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

We want legal and safe access routes opened so that people from third party countries like Jordan and Lebanon are able to get to Europe without having to risk their lives or having to use smugglers. The security measures and shameful walls that are being built in violation of European laws make their journeys all the more dangerous.

We want people to be respected and not to be discriminated against on the basis of their administrative status: “sorting” people is incompatible with the defence of fundamental rights. When people are fleeing wars, oppression and poverty, the only decent approach is to take them in and to respect their fundamental rights. In this respect, we are worried about the creation of “hot spots” as it will probably lead to “sorting”.

We want European asylum law to be revised, beginning with the annulment of the Dublin III Convention, which is considered to be inefficient and ineffective, as recommended by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. What is more, it is the responsibility of European Member States to establish a global and sustainable strategic plan, including how migrants will be distributed, respecting the right to asylum and accompanied by the necessary financial means. Discussions need to take place as quickly as possible with the source countries about legal mobility channels, with a view to allowing circular migration.

 The case of the Calais slum

Having been present in Calais since 2003, Médecins du Monde has seen thousands of men, women and children settle in Calais’s “New Jungle”. Having arrived exhausted after difficult journeys, these people have been parked in a former dump, some distance away from the city centre. Last July, due to the deterioration of the health situation and the lack of response by the authorities, along with other NGOs, we deployed the kind of means that is usually only used in crisis contexts. Since then, the lack of political will of the authorities has continually led to improvised, half-baked solutions that have left these people in very insecure conditions. In addition to everyday problems, there have recently been serious security issues that have made the lives of the migrants, staff and volunteers more complicated.

Human rights activists pointed out that the fundamental rights of the people living in this slum were not being respected. Due to the violation of several fundamental rights set down in the Conventions of the European Court of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, Médecins du Monde filed a petition with Lille administrative tribunal against the French state asking it to implement urgent measures to provide shelter and protection. The claimants were partially successful: the state was given forty-eight hours to draw up a list of isolated minors in distress and approach the Pas-de-Calais departmental authority to provide them with shelter. The state was also given a few days to create extra water points and set up latrines. Lastly, it was forced to establish a waste collection system and to install extra skips, as well as to clean the site and establish access to the camp for emergency services.

In the coming days and weeks, we hope the justice system will hear the voices of the migrants and allow them the possibility of a better life. And we hope civil society will mobilise to encourage our decision-makers to recognize the human, demographic and economic contribution of migration, and to accept the idea of a world where there is freedom of movement.


Dr Françoise Sivignon, President of Médecins du monde

[1] « Ouvrons les Portes » in French