Whether it’s to keep themselves warm, charge their phones or surf the internet, hundreds of migrants have in the past few years spent much of their days at the library located in the grounds of Paris’ science museum. At the library, they can take French or computer classes for free. InfoMigrants went to visit.
Charlie is a regular at the library. The young Ivorian easily navigates the maze of colorful corridors that make up the huge building situated in the Cité des Sciences (science museum), in the Parc de la Villette, in Paris’s 19th arrondissement (district).
Every now and then he greets a security guard that he knows. But his favorite pastime is to people watch. “I arrive pretty early in the morning. I find my friends, we sit down together and we watch what’s going on; the shop windows, the shopkeepers, the visitors and all these children laughing. I see things here that I’d never seen in my life before!” he says, pointing to a huge glass cabin which is used for skydiving simulation.
Just like Charlie, dozens of migrants flock to the free access museum grounds each day. The first migrants arrive when the grounds open at 10am and head straight to the library situated in the basement. Once there, they have to wait until noon to enter. When the doors open, they silently disperse in different directions; to find their favorite corner, a computer, or one of the many tables equipped with power sockets that will allow them to charge their smartphones. At the library I can relax, it keeps me from having dark thoughts
“I mainly come here to stay warm, to get cover from the rain and to charge my phone. It offers us an extra place to go when the Secours Catholique center next door is closed. This is open every day except on Mondays,” Sam, another Ivorian who belongs to the same group of friends, explains. “It’s important to have a place where we can get together. We help each other with our asylum applications, we give each other advice and tip each other off. It’s not easy because almost all of us fall under the Dublin regulation,” he continues.
Charlie spends his time in the library doing research. “I watch a lot of videos, I learn about France and immigration. I really want to integrate and so I try to learn as much as possible,” the 22-year-old says. He is dreaming of pursuing his passion – mechanics – in France. Charles arrived in France in December. He has to wait several months until the Dublin regulation no longer applies to him, once he can, he will apply for asylum in France. “At the library I can relax, it keeps me from having dark thoughts because we have nothing else to do but to wait.”
‘We know the migrants don’t come here for the books’
On this cold and rainy morning, at least one in every two library-goers is a migrant. “There are many of us who come here because the word has gotten around. And the staff here are really nice. They know we don’t come here to steal or cause problems,” Sam says. “They even answer our questions, and they smile at us...”
The library is more than a refuge, it has put a plethora of activities in place to become a social space for the migrants. The establishment offers French classes and workshops and vocational computer training. BAAM, an NGO that helps migrants, also holds weekend French classes on the premises.
Large signs written in English, French and Arabic have been placed at the library entrance to inform newcomers of the free activities they can participate in, such as workshops for finding a job or to learn about health issues. Aside from free wifi, the library offers free Internet access cards for the computers. The computers are popular among the migrants who often just have a phone to complete or follow-up on their administrative processes. The Internet access cards allow them to go online for up to two hours a day, or six hours per week.
According to one of the library workers, who wants to stay anonymous, the classes on offer fill up fast. “We know that the migrants don’t come here for the books, but we’re happy to help them anyway,” she says, noting she hopes to see some of them again once their administrative situation allows them to perhaps spend some leisure time there, and discover the thousands of literary works that the library houses.