Supporting migrants along the shores of northern France

A lack of safe and legal pathways leads people to undertake perilous journeys and endure long periods of living undocumented. Reasons for crossing the English Channel to the United Kingdom (UK) are very diverse, and variate from need to reunite with families and communities, employment opportunities, and English knowledge. Since the UK is no longer subject to the Dublin Regulation, many asylum seekers have increasingly attempted to cross the Channel. 

Before attempting to crossing the Channel, people often strand in makeshift camps on the northern coast of France for several weeks, in precarious conditions and with limited access to essential services. The French police engages in recurrent dismantling and evacuations of camps, resulting in many informal settlements. This makes access to humanitarian services more difficult, reducing migrants’ access to information on their rights and the possibility to receive protection in France.

To address their needs, the French Red Cross operates a “Mobile Support Device for Exiles” (DMSE) for migrants camping in Calais and Grande Synthe. The DSME entails a vulnerability assessment, allowing professionals to detect situations of human trafficking, gender-based violence, pregnancy, disability or mental health problems; inform authorities of situations requiring emergency support; and provide psychosocial support in a friendly atmosphere. The project offers three main axes of services: support to unaccompanied children, provision of health services, and restoring family links.

French Red Cross volunteers are carrying out vulnerability assessments with residents of the camp in in Grand Synthe, June 2022. © Louis Witter / French Red Cross

Children in camps experience serious vulnerabilities and risks of exploitation. Red Cross teams reach out to them regularly, creating trust, listening to their concerns, and offering recreational psychosocial activities. During these sessions, children are informed about their rights in France and oriented towards the child protection system, to which they are entitled, so that they can make informed choices regarding their future. Children exposed to specific risks and vulnerabilities are referred to social services. 

Most migrants suffer chronic pain and untreated sores, infections and diseases, caused by the hardships of their journeys and precarious living conditions. “Some people asked us whether they could receive treatment against feeling cold”, testifies Adrien from the French Red Cross, responsible for health support in the camps in Calais. In response, the French Red Cross provides first aid, nursing care, and transfers to the free healthcare services available in the hospitals in Dunkerque and Calais. These activities are complemented with safe spaces offering warm drinks and board games, where migrants can be informed about their rights in France and referred to relevant institutions. “Thank you for this day”, says a young Afghan after in Grande Synthe. “Our brains have not worked for too long (…), but I felt my brain working again today.”

Finally, Restoring Family Links services represent an important element of the French Red Cross’ outreach to migrants, including free phone calls and access to internet, and opportunities to send written and recorded messages, charge mobile devices, and search for missing loved ones.

French Red Cross volunteers are carrying out leisure activities with children in Grand Synthe, May 2022. © Matthieu Suprin / French Red Cross

The French Red Cross’ approach humanitarian assistance and protection to migrants on the move follows four principles:

  • Being close to the migrants’ places of life, to guarantee access to activities and information
  • Investing in a trusting relationship to ensure that young migrants connect with protection institutions
  • Disseminating information to as many people as possible, using a variety of tools and media
  • Adopting an intercultural approach to promoting mutual understanding and respect.

Thanks to this approach, many migrants are supported to make choices towards durable solutions. Margaux, a French Red Cross youth worker with the project for unaccompanied children, testifies on an incident involving a young migrant: “A few days ago, Wahid* attempted to cross the sea, but the boat’s engine had a failure (…). He has been very stressed since the shipwreck, and henceforth he has decided to start procedures to stay in France.

By supporting migrants in transit on the coasts, the French Red Cross responds to their humanitarian needs, providing relief from their distress and reducing the risks that they face during their journey. Throughout Europe and beyond, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are committed to protect and improve the safety and dignity of migrants, refugees, and other displaced people along dangerous migratory routes. Authorities must support access to this assistance for migrants, regardless of their legal status.


*Wahid’s name has been altered to protect his identity.

Basic information

Activity name

DSME – Dispositif Mobile de Soutien aux Exilés (Mobile Instrument for Exiles Support)




2016 - ongoing


French Red Cross 

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