In the north of Paris, at Porte de la Chapelle, hundreds of migrants camping under the ring road are being subjected to an onslaught of drug addicts, who are living a few meters away. In light of the junkies’ volatile behavior, organizations are making fewer and fewer trips to the camp, to the detriment of asylum seekers.
When Mohamed talks about the addicts, he calls them "those people", "the others" or "those strange people." The 23-year-old Afghan, who has been living for the past three days in an informal camp at Porte de la Chapelle in the north of Paris, is already bothered by the presence of drug addicts, the "crackheads," as the locals call them. This marginal - and marginalized - population, full of vulnerable people, is located on the infamous "crack hill" above the Paris ring road, a few meters from Mohamed’s encampment.
Mohammed lives just below, under the ring road exit ramp. From where he sleeps, he can watch the comings and goings of those who enter the camp. The presence of crackheads makes him nervous. Here, everyone seems on their guard. Co-existence between the two communities can be explosive. "There are more and more of us coming to live here on arriving in Paris. We try to keep the place nice, to clean a little. But the others, they come all the time and do all kinds of things," says a friend of Mohamed’s, also Afghan, wearing a turtleneck and no coat on this rainy morning.
The camp, which "grows week by week", according to migrant aid associations, is thus getting closer and closer to "crack hill" and its mountains of garbage, a pungent smell of filth pervades the air.
The migrants living at Porte de la Chapelle blame many of their ills on their drugged-up neighbors. In particular, they accuse them of coming and stealing their food. "We often bring back things to eat from other places, but they come and enter the camp to take everything," says Mohamed, who does not understand why the addicts move "weirdly". "They scream, they look crazy." When he crosses paths with one of them, Mohamed prefers to turn around. "They are crazy," he repeats. "I don’t talk to them. What I want is to leave here and have a roof over my head."
"Where are your associations?"
The atmosphere is heavy around the camp. Dozens of junkies stagger aimlessly, sometimes half naked, without shirts, despite the cold. They often come into contact with asylum seekers. They ask for money, things to eat. "They always come back. They are always there," Mohamed says.
The addicts hold crack pipes in their hands, not even bothering to try and hide them. They are recognizable by their haggard air, sitting on the sidewalks, lounging on the side of the road, eyes red and vacant gazes.
Because of the drug addicts’ violence and their volatility, migrant aid groups – of which there are many in the 18th arrondissement – no longer go into the camp every day, which is isolated, far from the major arteries of Paris. "We go there, but not on a daily basis. We need to have teams of tough volunteers. We have had problems. Other NGOs have too," says Alix, a member of Utopia 56, a non-profit group that works with migrants.
Today, asylum seekers like Mohammed suffer the direct consequences of the absence of humanitarian groups. They say they have been abandoned to their fate. "Where are these associations? I have been here for three days, I don’t have a sleeping bag, I'm cold. On top of it, I don’t understand this number that you have to call for asylum, no one ever answers!” Mohamed says with irritation. “Look around you, aside from these strange people, there is no one!" Mohamed points out the difference between the two groups. "We [asylum seekers] are respectable. They cause problems."
"I've been in tough situations, but it's horrific here"
A Somali man, who just finished brushing his teeth at the nearby water point, agrees. He says he is shocked by the extreme hazards of the place. "I arrived two days ago, but I'm going to leave very quickly, I've had hard times, but it’s horrific here, I'm going to try my luck in another country," the 20-year-old migrant says.
Other people, Somalis and Eritreans, gather around a small fire and describe fights, always provoked by the occupants of "crack hill." They talk about "blows to the legs", about the "throwing of glass bottles," especially at night. "They are dangerous people, when they come, they look like they have been drinking, they are violent," says another Somali. When they need a fix, crack addicts can become vicious.
Worse, drug addicts today have imposed their presence wherever there are migrants. They follow them to the free medical consultations organized by the NGOs further along the boulevard, they come to the food distribution points that are organized every morning by the Salvation Army not far from the metro. "Yes, and it's not always easy," Mary, an employee of the Salvation Army who is overseeing the breakfast distribution this Tuesday, says soberly. "We advocate an unconditional welcome, we cannot refuse them." But their arrival often infuriates the migrants. The addicts don’t wait in line, they sometimes spill food and can be destructive.
"I found feces in my service station"
The manager of a car wash across the street, less than 20 meters from the camp, also says the crackheads are a nuisance. "They come here to defecate, I find their feces in my service station," says the man, who has worked there for fifty years. "The migrants don’t cause a lot of problems, they beg, sometimes, but that's all. They don’t come and bother my customers." One of his employees concurred. “The other day a junkie broke the window of a vehicle that had just been washed. They are out of control." The two men hope that the preparations for the 2024 Olympic Games "will change all that." A sports arena is supposed to be built at Porte de la Chapelle for the event.
For their part, migrant aid associations are worried. They fear that newcomers, weakened by their migration journeys and psychologically exhausted, may, in their turn become drug addicts. Aid workers say that the dealers at Porte de la Chapelle typically offer young immigrants a few doses of crack to make them dependent and thus gain new customers. Alix from Utopia 56 points out that this hard drug is "one of the fastest-acting drugs on the brain. It’s one of the most destructive drugs because dependence on it is almost immediate." And few migrants know that. "Many people do not know about crack so they don’t worry about it when it is offered to them. In their country, they had never heard of it."