The make-shift camps lining the Saint-Denis Canal in northern Paris have grown in recent weeks. Photo: Solidarité Migrants Wilson
The make-shift camps lining the Saint-Denis Canal in northern Paris have grown in recent weeks. Photo: Solidarité Migrants Wilson

One week after a Paris court ordered prefectures in northern Paris to install drinking water facilities, toilets and showers near the swelling migrant camps in the area, aid groups say authorities have only provided the bare minimum and not nearly enough to cover the real needs of the migrants.

At the beginning of June, a Paris court ordered the prefectures in Île-de-France, Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis and related town halls to urgently set up drinking water points, toilets and showers near the migrants camps along the Saint-Denis Canal, northeast of Paris. 

The prefectures, which had been taken to court by 16 aid groups, were given "48 hours - or face a fine of €150 for each day of delay" to set up the facilities. They were also ordered to provide garbage collection services "at least once a week," and help the migrants protect themselves against the spread of the coronavirus by handing out face masks, soap, and antiseptic hand sanitizer.

One week later, Philippe Caro, a spokesman for the Solidarité Migrants Wilson aid group, said that things had moved forward "a little" on the Aubervilliers side of the canal: A water fountain, toilets and dumpsters had been installed by the Stains bridge, and a little bit further along, another dumpster had been erected on the Landy bridge. 

On the Saint-Denis side of the canal, the prefecture had made sure to distribute "water bottles and install a water tank," Louis Barda, who coordinates the sanitary access program for Médécins du Monde, told InfoMigrants, adding that a mobile shower service had also been arranged after the court ruling.

'More and more people in camps'

But these efforts are nor enough. "Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers just did the bare minimum because the court ordered them to do so. But the problem still remains in its entirety because there are not enough water and sanitary facilities, and there are more and more people living in the camps," Caro explained.

On Tuesday evening alone, Caro said his aid group handed out an estimated 500 meals, stressing that "that’s no longer enough." By the Stains bridge, there are currently around 150 tents pitched up: by the Landy bridge, between 50 and 100, and by the Maltournée basin, another 20, he told InfoMigrants.

There are also several micro camps dotted along the northeast entrances of Paris, as well as along the city’s Périphérique ring road. Barda says that the number of migrants living on the streets of northern Paris has doubled since France began to lift its lockdown measures on May 11, adding that he has counted an approximate 400 migrants in these camps.

According to Barda, these growing numbers of homeless migrants are largely due to the fact that the temporary accommodation places that were offered during lockdown have by now been shut down. He also said that there is an increased number of new migrant arrivals, as countries in the European Union have started to open up their borders again.

"We also need to take into account those who used to work cash-on-hand jobs and who paid for their own accommodations. After having lost their jobs during the crisis, they can no longer pay their rents, and so they end up on the streets," he explained, adding that the forced closure of numerous French administrative offices also brought the processing of many migrant cases to a complete standstill.

"They should have been able to move on months ago, but instead they find themselves blocked and stranded on the streets here. Many of them also spend the night lining up outside the OFII offices (the French Office for Immigration and Integration) in Paris," he said.

'Access to shelters should be unconditioned'

"We’re disappointed that the court didn’t follow our recommendation when it comes to [providing migrants with] accommodation," Barda told InfoMigrants. "The authorities counter our claim by saying that the state hosts 130,000 people in the Île-de-France region every evening, and that the few migrants who are homeless can call the 115 emergency shelter number if need be, but we know that this is not a viable solution. Either you can’t get through on the number, or if you do, all the places have usually already been taken."

Médecins du Monde, Solidarité Migrants Wilson and the other associations, which originally took the prefectures and town halls to court, continue to call for more permanent accommodation solutions for migrants. "Aside from access to drinking water and sanitary facilities, our priority is still to demand that access to shelters should be unconditional, including for those who have been registered according to the Dublin agreement, those who’ve had their asylum applications rejected, as well as for undocumented migrants. It’s been like this for five years now, and it’s become a recurring problem due to the lack of political will," Barda said with a sense of frustration in his voice.

The prefecture for Paris and île-de-France declined to comment on the issue. "Due to the local election period, we cannot comment on the issue at this point in time," it said. The prefecture in Saint-Denis, meanwhile, confirmed that it had "distributed masks and hand sanitising gel to migrants via the Red Cross [on Thursday], as ordered by the administrative court of Paris." It added, however, that "the installation of drinking water and sanitary facilities, as well as dumpsters, are the responsibility of the municipalities concerned."

Neither the Saint-Denis nor Aubervilliers town hall responded to requests for comment.


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