Mapping starts!

The Welcome Center turns out to be the a spot designed to get in contact and attract people. We furnished our mapping corner with a foldable table and chairs. Within short time a few curious people approach us, wanting to know more. We show the blank map, talk about potential problems new arrivals and refugees with poor English knowledge face without an adequate map. As we find out, the rapid growth of the camp even challenges long-term refugees.

The field mapping is done in buddy teams of two for efficiency and safety reasons, collecting GPS data on the go. After a short explanation of the device menu and its main functions, we start in the surrounding of the Welcome Center, marking the POI with waypoints and taking notes in order to create a skeleton of the structure. Light Poles serve as points of reference, combined with the data from the main “middle street “ the divide the camp in sections. The teams collect data and information of the entrance and new arrival area which includes the charging place, medical clinic, laundry and petrol distribution point.

The lack of communal spaces, food and NFI distribution points in the backmost, single men part of the camp, where 60% of the camp population lives is obvious. The area is deserted, shelters are not personalized, only few open fires and cooking activities, apparently residents of this area prefer to spend their time in the entrance and family area  as it offers multiple attractive options to interact, play and communicate. This fact may relate to the presence of human traffickers, cigarette smugglers and drug dealers in the back part of the camp, leading to violence, tensions and a feeling of insecurity and threat for the residents in this area. The mafia gang activities and fights occur exclusively during the night, preventing the residents not involved from finding sleep and rest. This results in a reduced ability to participate in camp activities concentrate and organise and adds to already existing mental health issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety.

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Installation and Set-up

During the time of our stay the technical equipment is made available by the NGO Bibliothéques sans Frontières (BsF). It consists of laptops, tablets, GPS Devices, solar panel, battery and router. Other than planned we settle in the “Welcome Center” which is located in the heart of social activities, sheltered by a tin roof, a perfect spot for outreach and interaction with refugees walking by. Our previous plan to do the workshop in the large charging station is cancelled, we have been informed by camp residents of the presence of smugglers and dealers in this area. We visit public places like the school, talk to students, teachers and residents we meet on our way through the camp and get invited to sit down for a tea.


Team members Mark and Jorieke visited the Grande-Synthe refugee settlement a week before the real start of the project. They spent a lot of time getting to know the dynamics of the camp and the needs/requirements of the individual stakeholders. While being in the camp they discovered an already existing map of the camp (made by MSF) which can be seen in two of the staff cabins. However, the constant evolution of the camp makes the map unfit for purpose and so lack of use of the map was observed.

The conclusion of this first visit was, that there are numerous stakeholders that would like an up to date map. However, the camp staff, such as the teachers, and residents (with mothers, youth/children, as subsets) all have different requirements. Key stakeholders like the school headteacher and members of the refugee council should be able to support us with getting set up on the ground and with collecting the wishes of the camp residents and staff. While we, the team, can say what we think is required to map, it will give the residents and staff ownership over the map if they do it.

For the initial mapping survey, it was clear that there is a dynamic from within the camp – the staff are primarily interested in the form of the camp, how it’s growing and how things getting organized, this in contrast with the residents who have needs on understanding the immediate vicinity of the camp. This comes from the perspective of mapping local amenities, such as hospitals and bakeries to ones of safety. The camp is bordered by a motorway and train tracks, as such it is common for the camp residents to venture out onto the motorway and train tracks to get somewhere, as a clear route to where they want to go isn’t know. This has been a safety risk. With the train tracks, there is also the disinformation that they go to England, this causes the residents to attempt to jump on the trains, with ambiguous results.

What the camp staff and residents certainly would like to see on the map:

  • Amenities of the camp and local surroundings
  • Local bus routes that serve or go near the camp
  • Potential to demonstrate “how do I get to Dunkirk” … “take the A1 bus from X stop”
  • Access routes in and out of the camp

The storage of the mapping equipment could be supported by the camp school. Currently the school head teacher is overseeing the construction of lockable lockers for the eventual storage of the equipment. There is a single point for electricity in the camp – which is also the main area for socialising. This has a rather large wall, where we can hang maps of the camp and the surrounding areas -we can work with the Camp Council to present the findings and process of the work.

Internet in the camp is intermittent to non-existent, there is no wifi. Opinion by residents is that the signal is “being blocked by drones”. This is regardless of a high 3G signal. Testing out different 3G networks for connectivity should be the first step to tackle the problem.

Once a basemap of the camp has been established, there is a strong desire for participatory mapping, with mothers, children and other groups to further identify and capture data. This could be done on top of the printed maps, in schools, dining areas and ‘in’ the camp itself. As an aside, the school would be quite grateful for maps of the camp and surrounding areas for geographical learning. And as an added value – the residents also quite like a little app for the camp, that allows for the map to be seen offline on their phones.

Generally, there is good desire for our project in the camp, and with the resources that we have already we can do a very good job. Our next steps now are writing check-lists for practical implementation and steps for the on-the-ground mapping.

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