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.

Joint achievements

After two weeks of challenges and valuable experiences we are able to present the printed DIN A1 maps at the Refugee Welcome Center. We attach them visibly at this prominent and popular space, where they immediately attract the attention of residents and volunteers passing by. Especially the surroundings map causes a lot of interest and leads to discussions and inqueries. And of course, besides positive response we also get suggestions and critical remarks, which features and names are missing and what should be improved in the rendering.

Small format maps are distributed to the refugee council that will use them to manage the distribution of residents to shelters, and to Utopia56, the association that runs the camp and offered us kind support (and chairs!) during the time of our stay. The translation of the map content to Kurdish and Arabic has been done by our refugee team members. As soon as we have resources these multilanguage maps will be printed and made available to the camp residents.

To finalize and produce printed maps was one of our main deliverable in this project, and we can say we have met this goal, although there are still improvements and refinements needed. But there is now a basemap of the camp and its surroundings that can be built upon and used for various causes: orientation and finding directions  for new arrivals and volunteers, better contingency planning for associations and NGOs, communication and interaction within the camp community as fostered by the refugee council.

Equally important as the provision of accurate and useful camp maps was the training and interaction with the camp residents. We met persons with differing professional background and educational levels, some immediately understood the techniques and procedure of mapping and were able to edit and clean the data independently after a short while, while others preferred to simply go out with fieldpapers and a GPS to collect waypoints and traces. Some joined us only for a few hours, others came nearly everyday. But everyone showed curiosity, open-mindedness and ambition and was eager to transfer the knowledge about their living conditions to an offline and online available map. It was a joy to see their reaction to the many possibilities OpenStreetMap offers, it was hard for them to believe they actually could add to this worldwide database.

All map files and the bus guide are available for download as pdf and png  here

Final review and a Fieldtrip

Our last days were full of intense work, as we wanted to meet also the last goal set prior to the start of the project: digitization and rendering of the data collected on the ground to make it available to camp residents in printed format.  We started printing test maps on the weekend, and exhibited them at the Refugee Welcome Center to give as many people as possible a chance to review and provide feedback. Our trained mappers were by now involved in refining and detailed data editing in JOSM, learned more about tags and good practices in mapping. As usual, new mappers kept dropping in, which gave us the chance to head out once more and collect missing data with GPS. Nearly everyday a new feature pops up at the camp, be it shop, restaurant, bicycle repair, tipi or vegetable beds.

There was a huge demand from the residents to have a map of the camp surroundings (“how to go to…”) So we headed out for a fieldtrip to the nearby lake, the commercial center and busstops. We investigated potential ways to get to the camp, and identified safe routes and alternative directions to those commonly used. To complete this task we had to rely on the knowledge and experience of our refugee mappers who knew much more than us about the dynamics between the camp and the destinations outside.  We discussed and debated what to put on the map and finally agreed to limit the area displayed to the commercial center and a small number of bus stops nearby.

Now we faced the problem how to visualize the missing points of interest like ATMs, post office, Western Union and train station which are situated in the center of Dunkerque which would not be part of our surroundings map. A camp resident threw in the idea of a printed guide in A5 for handout, and use icons and simple Kurdish and English terms to give residents and new arrivals a better orientation and enable them to reach their destinations safely. Combined with the maps we would then have a complete set of points and areas of interest. He invested lots of time and energy in creating this visual guide, from design to translation to communication with the camp residents and associations.

Bus guide.jpg

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!

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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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