After Calais, does a similar fate await Paris's mini 'Jungle'?
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The homeless migrant population in Paris increased sharply last week, but FRANCE 24 found that the influx cannot be blamed on last week’s evacuation of the Calais “Jungle” migrant camp in northern France.
Last week French president François Hollande praised the evacuation of the notorious Calais camp, saying that 5,000 migrants had been shifted to 450 reception centres throughout France. Hollande said France would “no longer tolerate” migrant camps, calling them "unbecoming of what a French welcome should be".
Makeshift camps of 1,000 to 2,000 migrants have existed on the streets of Paris since last year, but over the weekend Paris officials reported that their population had increased by roughly one third since the Calais evacuation.
In a letter that was made public on Monday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo made a request to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to close the camps rapidly on humanitarian grounds.
Several French media outlets quickly drew a connection between the evacuation of the “Jungle” and the influx of migrants in Paris, a two-hour train ride from Calais.
“After Calais, migrant camps swell”, ran a headline in French daily Le Figaro on October 28. “Demolition of Calais: migrants retreat to Paris” was the title of similar piece by BFMTV on October 27.
“Between 500 and 1,000 people have arrived in Paris, and the majority come from Calais,” Julian, from the migrants-rights group Bureau d’Accueil et d’Accompagnement des Migrants (Migrant Reception and Support Committee) told Europe 1 on October 28.
But among more than 25 migrants interviewed on Monday at the major camps in Paris, only one had arrived from Calais during the evacuation. The rest had been in Paris for several weeks or months, or had recently arrived from Italy. Most have begun the long, complicated process of applying for asylum in France. They often speak English but little French. Several said they were tired of talking to journalists.
‘We always see the same faces’
The majority of homeless migrants in Paris are camped in the north of the city at the border of the 10th, 18th and 19th arrondissements (districts), where the intersection of a major boulevard, an elevated metro line and a canal create several large spaces of sheltered pavement. The population is split into roughly four distinct camps.
At 9am on Monday under the elevated train line near Jaurès Metro, riot police blocked a group of about 30 migrants from reaching their camping spots, while a digger cleared away tents and a clean-up crew unblocked the overflowing public urinals.
About a dozen activists stood alongside the migrants, holding signs protesting the round-up. Houssam, from the migrant-rights group Chapelle Debout, questioned the French government’s purported humanitarian goals.
“These round-ups have three objectives,” Houssam told FRANCE 24. “To rush the asylum process, to discourage migrants from requesting asylum and to criminalise the migrant population.”
At least a dozen journalists had come to cover the police action and to try to find migrants who had recently come from Calais.
But Yann from SciencesPo Refugee Help, a student activist group, said that the population of the Paris camps was constantly going up and down.
“There are no more spaces in the housing centres for asylum seekers, so people stay on the street,” Yann told FRANCE 24. “There are a few people from Calais, but we always see the same faces.”
On the other side of the overpass, about 100 migrants were lined up with their tents, mattresses and bags, waiting for the round-up to pass.
Round-ups and evacuations of the Paris migrant camps occur on an almost-weekly basis. One woman, who did not give her name, explained that she had already seen three since she arrived in Paris in September. Like most people near the Jaurès Metro, she is from Afghanistan. She was in France with seven family members, all of whom had requested asylum. She said they planned to sleep in the same spot Monday night, despite the round-up.
The Calais connection
About 200 metres away, under the section of the elevated trainline near Stalingrad Metro, the camp of mostly Sudanese families had not been touched by the round-up. Omaima, a Sudanese mother living in a tent with her son and daughter, said she had arrived in Paris from Italy one week ago.
She took out a paper showing an appointment with Coordination de l'Accueil des Familles Demandeuses d'Asile (Coordination for the Reception of Families Requesting Asylum), one of the non-profit organisations charged by the French government with receiving asylum requests.
Omaima’s neighbour, also Sudanese, said she did come from Calais, but had come to Paris two months ago. Calais was too cold and unsanitary for her and her son, she said.
Activists and officials say many migrants like her have been travelling back and forth between Paris and Calais for months, long before any announcement that the "Jungle" would be dismantled.
Libya, Italy, Paris
The camp of mostly single Sudanese men that stretches along Paris's Avenue Flandre has seen the most growth in the past week, said Sylvie and Christophe, two neighbourhood residents who come to the camp on a regular basis to offer their help.
“Before the tents stopped at the traffic light [at Rue du Maroc],” Sylvie told FRANCE 24. “Now they go up to Passage de Flandre,” covering an additional 200 metres of pavement.
“I’m angry,” Sylvie continued. “We have to save them, you know?”
She doesn’t think the government is doing enough. She sees neighbourhood residents and citizen organisations come to the camps more often than the large organisations that receive government funding, like Médécins du Monde, Emmaüs or France Terre d’Asile.
She and Christophe agreed that the recent influx of people on Avenue Flandre did not come from Calais.
Most seemed to be like Youssif, a Sudanese man who was sitting with two friends on a bench in front of the state health insurance office on Avenue Flandre, eating apples they received from volunteers. They had all followed the same route: Sudan, Libya, Italy, Paris.
Youssif held up a small slip of green paper. It gives him an appointment at France Terre d’Asile, one of the associations charged with processing asylum requests. The date of the appointment is November 18, which means another 18 days on the street.
Ahmed-Mohammed was the only person interviewed for this article who said he had come from Calais after the demolition. He stopped to talk after squeezing past activists, journalists and migrants. Ahmed-Mohammed said he arrived in Paris on Sunday. He has been trying to get to England for six months and he will keep trying.
A few metres away, cameras from French TV station TF1 rolled as a correspondent in a Barbour jacket walked between the rows of tents with Abdel, a Sudanese migrant who speaks fluent French. Abdel, like many migrants in the camp, seemed both used to talking to journalists and a little bemused by the sudden surge of attention. After a few takes, the cameras stopped.
“I thought there were supposed to be people from Calais here,” the TV correspondent said.
“No,” Abdel said. “All the new people are from Italy.”