Condition of migrants in Paris

Médecins Sans Frontières-France: tensions arising from the “Migration” projects

Michaël Neuman

Director of studies at Crash / Médecins sans Frontières, Michaël Neuman graduated in Contemporary History and International Relations (University Paris-I). He joined Médecins sans Frontières in 1999 and has worked both on the ground (Balkans, Sudan, Caucasus, West Africa) and in headquarters (New York, Paris as deputy director responsible for programmes). He has also carried out research on issues of immigration and geopolitics. He is co-editor of "Humanitarian negotiations Revealed, the MSF experience" (London: Hurst and Co, 2011). He is also the co-editor of "Saving lives and staying alive. Humanitarian Security in the Age of Risk Management" (London: Hurst and Co, 2016).

In the summer of 2015, the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières started aid projects for migrant populations in Greece and France. The launch of these operations was the occasion for lively discussions within the association, both in terms of public positioning (how to justify an intervention in a rich country and not get lost in "political" territory?), and in terms of revising our operating methods, knowing that the primary needs of migrants were not primarily medical. Some people then recalled the association's militant practices in the 1990s, which were sometimes considered as abuses. By retracing the history of the French Mission, Michaël Neuman seeks to understand, with regard to the migration issue, the complex articulation between operational constraints, political positioning and militant practices.  

This article was published in Alternatives Humanitaires - March 2019.

After abandoning Europe – and France in particular – for several years, the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières – where I work and the sole subject of this analysis – has returned. In summer 2015, it launched a series of aid projects for migrant populations in Greece and northern France, before gradually moving into other regions of the countryEven though they are outside Europe, the projects launched in Libya and Niger are also directly related.. These decisions were not taken without debate, with powerful voices within MSF promptly speaking up to stress the risks that these programmes posed for the organisation. This concern was partly based on recollections of MSF’s operational activity in France and its radical practices (some would call them “exuberances”) of the 1990s. The fact that these populations had no “medical needs” was also highlighted.


To cite this content :
Michaël Neuman, “Médecins Sans Frontières-France: tensions arising from the “Migration” projects”, 7 mai 2019, URL :

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