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France faces emergency housing shortage as it prepares for refugee influx

Joel Saget, AFP | A migrant crawls into his tent next to the Austerlitz train station in Paris on June 14, 2015

As France prepares to welcome 33,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea over the next two years, the country is confronting a shortage of emergency housing.

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The thorny issue of how France will shelter the new arrivals arose after President François Hollande announced earlier this week that the country will welcome 24,000 refugees over the next two years, in addition to the 9,000 people it has already committed to taking in.

In addition to the influx of refugees, France also expects 60,000 asylum requests by the end of 2015. Although the country received the same number of applications last year, its reception centres for asylum seekers (which have a capacity of 25,000 people) are oversaturated.

The country has already taken some steps towards tackling the problem. In June, the interior and housing ministries unveiled plans to create lodging for an additional 11,000 people by 2016. A “national coordinator”, Kléber Arhoul, has also been appointed to oversee the arrival of refugees in different cities, while the government is working with non-profit organisations, housing associations and local groups to resolve the shortage.

‘Coordinating’ a response

1. Donate your time

While it’s easy to give money, one thing that many organisations working with refugees and migrants really need are volunteers. There are a myriad of places where you can do that in France, including the Croix-Rouge, CIMADE, France Terre d’Asile and Secours Populaire Française. For a more complete list, check out this map by French daily Libération.

2. Donate your money

If you don’t have time to volunteer, then dig into your pockets. A number of organisations are asking for donations to fund programmes specifically aimed at helping refugees and migrants.

3. Donate your old belongings

Instead of throwing out your old belongings, why not donate them? There are a number of organisations, such as Emmaüs, that will be happy to take your unwanted things off your hands. Sleeping bags, tents, old phones, clothing, tools, books, children’s games…Call ahead to check if they are in need of any particular items.

4. Host a refugee

If you have the space and are willing, host a refugee in your home. There are a number of groups that help connect individuals with refugees in need of a place to stay, such as CALM.

The idea is to “coordinate” and “organise in a dignified and serious manner”, according to Hollande.

The state-funded refugee agency OFPRA, which has been tasked with selecting which refugees in Germany will be allowed onto French soil, is the main organisation responsible for “coordinating” France’s response to the migrant crisis.

For the moment, only refugees from Syria, Iraq or Eritrea will be accepted in the country, because they are less likely to need emergency housing for an extended period since it is easier for nationals from these countries to obtain residency papers.

Meanwhile, cities, dioceses and individuals have also launched their own initiatives. The Paris hospital system has said that it is willing to shelter 150 refugees in two vacant buildings for a maximum period of 18 months, while the public housing association has pledged to come up “with concrete solutions as soon as possible”.

An association that represents the mayors of France’s largest cities has also said that it is prepared to do “its part” to shelter refugees, as long as the government respects “a certain number of conditions”, including the creation of a “sustainable” national resettlement plan for refugees. 

‘Not enough’

A sustainable plan is the exact thing that France lacks right now, according to Jean-Claude Mas, general secretary of CIMADE, an organisation that provides legal advice to refugees and migrants.

“The interior and housing ministries haven’t come up with any new measures,” Mas told FRANCE 24. “They’re just trying to expand on existing programmes by sheltering more asylum seekers. They’re also trying to think of what role prefectures should play. I am not sure that this kind of thinking is enough.”

Mas said that more funding is needed if the government wants to find a sustainable solution to the emergency housing shortage.

“They need to create a specific and isolated fund to deal with the crisis,” he said.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is expected to meet with mayors from across France on Saturday to discuss the emergency housing shortage.

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