Isolated underage migrants are sometimes targeted by pedophiles. Organizations that work with young migrants have reported several cases of sexual violence. So how can young people best protect themselves when sleeping on the streets of Paris?
More than 90 young migrants are sleeping on the streets of Paris at the moment, according to the collective Midis du Mie and Paris d'Exil (Paris of Exile). These two groups, which work with unaccompanied migrant children, as well as the organizations Timmy and Utopia 56, have warned several times about the risks faced by these adolescents, the most vulnerable of which are targets for sexual predators.
"The risks are real, pedophiles have already come to the migrant camps, openly, to talk to young people,” said Espérance, a volunteer with the organization Timmy, which has placed more than 80 minors with foster families. Espérance, who reported the incident to the police, is not the only person to have seen sexual predators approaching young migrants. Agathe Nadimi, the founder of Les Midis du Mie, had to chase away a man who was lurking during food distribution two months ago. He looked like the same man whose Facebook profile had been flagged by other organizations.
Young newcomers are the perfect targets. "Those who have just arrived, don’t have their bearings, don’t know [which agencies] to contact.” said Anjela, who does night patrols for the non-profit Utopia 56. “They are so lost that they are likely to accept the help of the first person who reaches out to them.” She recently told the police that she had seen suspicious cars double parked near a camp with Afghans and people from Chad along the Canal Saint-Denis. “Most young people are afraid to go through the door of a police station to complain," she said.
How to protect yourself?
Under these conditions, how can young migrants on the street protect themselves?
For starters, groups that work with minors constantly stress that "anyone who gives them something should not ask for anything in return." Several of the volunteers interviewed by InfoMigrants recounted the stories of teenagers who were offered, both by men and by women, showers, hot meals and sleeping bags in exchange for sexual favors or housework.
The groups all insist that lodging with a private individual must always be supervized by an organization. "[Minors] have to systematically ask if the person offering accommodation is acting on behalf of a collective or an association," Nadimi said.
"It is better to deal with an
association or a collective rather than an individual", Espérance agreed.
"And never sleep at a stranger's house alone but rather with several
Before a minor been registered at the Foreign Minors Evaluation Facility (Demie), which is managed by the
Red Cross and is the only institution empowered to take charge of and recognize
the minor status of young people, they can go to police stations, where police
officers can sometimes find them a hotel to stay for a night. In any case,
"it is better to spend the night sitting in a police station or a hospital
than to agree to go with someone you do not know," Espérance advised.
Get close to organizations
"The young people don’t talk too much about it, it's shameful, a taboo subject", said Anjela from Utopia 56. A week ago, one of the minors who was at a lunch distribution truck and who had been sleeping on the street for a while finally confided in Nadimi. "I sensed that he was reluctant to be lodged somewhere," she said. “He told me that a man he met at Porte de la Chapelle had offered to let him sleep in the warmth of his house and had tried to abuse him. That's why he didn't dare ask for help. He would rather sleep on the street than go through that again."
That is one of the reasons why Delphine Dufriche of Paris d'Exil advises organizations "to have several representatives … If the youth encounter a problem, they can talk to a second adult and won't feel trapped."
Vigilance of organizations
For their part, volunteers try to ensure that the people housing minors are reliable. "I always call to know who the host is and if it is an association that we are familiar with that has set up the accommodation. If that is not the case, the unknown host will at least know that the youth is not alone, that there are people behind him if there is a problem, because it's also the isolation that leaves these teenagers very vulnerable," Nadimi said.
Organizations also have their own verification systems to ensure the good intentions of people who volunteer to house minors. "Thanks to a regular follow-up and many meetings and visits, so far we haven't had a problem," said Espérance. "At the slightest doubt, we stop working with the person. The young people we house know that they can and must talk to us about anything."
Each organization has put measures in
place to protect minors from pedophiles, including taking the time to get to
know newcomers, communicating via closed groups and not making all their events
As a reminder, in France and in Europe, sexual assault is a serious crime, severely punished under the law.
Where to get help :
Police: in case of emergency, call 17 or 112 (European number)
Les Midis du Mie - Mondays from 12 pm to 4 pm next to the Demie at 5
rue du Moulin Joly, 75011 Paris - Metro: Couronnes (line 2) or directly at the
Socio-Cultural Center Jules Romans, 17 Rue Jules Romains. Metro: Belleville
(line 11 and 2). Thursdays and Fridays at noon, and Saturday and Sunday at
12:30 pm at the Jardin de la rue Pali-Kao, 75020 Paris. Metro: Couronnes (line
Paris d'Exil – Volunteers are at the library of Couronnes on
Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 12pm, 66 rue de Couronnes, 75020 Paris.
Metro: Couronnes (line 2)
The Timmy can be reached through other organizations or by email:
Utopia 56 can be reached at 07 84 09 00 89
MSF daytime reception
center - Monday to Friday
(except Wednesday), preferably in the morning, 101 bis avenue Jean Lolive,
93500 Pantin. Metro: Église de Pantin / Hoche (line 5)
Le Demie 75 (Red Cross evaluation facility for foreign minors) is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5 pm, and on Wednesday from 11am, 5 rue du Moulin Joly, 75011 Paris. Metro: Couronnes (line 2)