Refugee Stakeholders

Before, during and after our stay in Grande-Synthe we were asked if there were official requests for mapping activities from stakeholders like NGOs or charities, if we were able to make bonds with them while on site, including options for further collaboration. Yes, we met stakeholders and yes, we made bonds and collaboration is already happening. But the decision makers we mostly interacted with were the camp residents themselves, be it in organised bodies, our mapfugee team members or individuals. They were our most important contacts and collaborators, their support was crucial for a successful and efficent work. Of course, talking to charitable organisations and NGO was part of networking and although important this served more as an additional source of information and input. This is in parts due to the informal situation of the camp which subsequently fosters grassroot structures and self-organisation. Nonetheless the reception of refugee communities as equal partners, take into account their needs and demands, interact with them like any other civil society stakeholders appears to be of crucial importance and needs to be more implemented in humanitarian work. There is not always the place and time to do that, vulnerable persons on their journey or living in miserable conditions might have other needs and demands. But as soon as there is a chance to involve them in the process of improving living conditions, better management and outreach to vulnerable and disregarded individuals, it must be done. They are actors from the beginning on and this has to be acknowledged.

Get involved

The mapping activities in the camps will continue. It won´t be easy. communication and coordination is challenging, there are misunderstandings. The main problem is the lack of equipment, continous training and recruitment of new mappers. We need support on various levels, donations to our crowdfunding campaign are very welcome of course, but providing second hand items like laptop, tablet,  GPS devices, batteries and mice, financing new printed maps and guides for hand-out are of equal importance. Another way to get involved is presence on site: support camp mappers, help with training, interaction with the refugee community and organisations. More topics like connectivity, electricity, mapping apps, map styles are discussed on our mailing list , this is an opportunity to contribute remotely.

Filling in the grid

Our fourth day in the camp, and we start to be known a bit… We get a hug on our arrival from a Utopia volunteer and a big smile from the guys who mapped with us yesterday. Today we brought not only our five gps-devices, but also equipment to get the mapping really started!

We installed our table and chairs and most importantly, the router connected with a solar panel which will provide us with internet connection (thanks Bibliothèques sans Frontières!). While Johan and Blake were setting up our little mapping headquarter, Katja and Jorieke started already to explain to curious refugees what we are doing: make them making a map of their own living environment!

Thanks to work of Jo and Blake the day before, we could print today also our first field papers. With help of the plan made by MSF for the initial construction of the camp, we were able to add the footprints of the shelters and buildings on OpenStreetMap which we subsequently printed in full color with the printer donated to the project by Jo.

Once on site, we started to learn some interested refugees how to map the camp with help of the field papers. It was amazing how fast they learned! “In the north of the camp, you see the highway, and in the South you see the train. Then at the entrance you see the charging center, you know, that place where you go to charge the battery of  your phone when it died.” Those are clear reference points for the refugees which consequently were mapped out the first.

It was a day of running around with gps’s and field papers. We as externals got to know again a bit better the camp, but also the residents learned more about their actual living environment, especially the new arrivals. About 10 new persons arrive every day. For them a map of the camp could be a real asset; to find the adult school, the entrance to the doctors, the mothers and children center, etc.

With three refugee mappers continuously at our side, the setup of our little mapping corner and curious residents all around us, we could say this day was a success!

See the post on Facebook.

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.

See this post on Facebook.

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.