Migrant tents pitched in front of Paris City Hall Monday, August 31, 2020 | Photo: Utopia 56
Migrant tents pitched in front of Paris City Hall Monday, August 31, 2020 | Photo: Utopia 56

More than 200 people have pitched tents in central Paris in a protest to demand better care and facilities for migrants. When police tried to evacuate the camp, the Paris City Hall opened a room to accommodate the protesters.

Late Monday night more than 200 people put up tents on the square in front of the majestic City Hall building in the heart of the French capital. With representatives from the NGO, Utopia 56, 107 families – mostly from Somalia, Ivory Coast, and Afghanistan – wanted to draw attention to their plight and demand assistance.

"The aim of this symbolic action is to stop pretending that these people do not exist," Mael de Marcellus, Utopia 56’s Paris coordinator, told InfoMigrants. "The authorities want to make them invisible by preventing them from settling on the pavements of Paris and its suburbs. Many lived in tents towards [the northern suburb of] Aubervilliers, but were regularly chased away by the police, and they must be accommodated in a dignified and unconditional way."

The group of 218 migrants included many single women, one person using a wheelchair, eight children under three years old, and even a two-week-old infant. According to Utopia 56, half are newcomers, the others are in the process of being processed or have a residence permit or refugee status.

‘A call for help’

"Being here is a call for help," Rolande, an Ivorian who arrived in Paris three months ago, told AFP. "I'm tired of the street. For a woman, it's very dangerous, we're easy targets. If they don't help us, if they don't allow us to work, we're going to stay in this cycle," explained the 36-year-old asylum seeker.

Since early August, Utopia 56 has sent no fewer than 25 emails to Paris City Hall, none of which was answered. With this attention-grabbing action, the city "can no longer close its eyes", de Macellus said.

But the installation of a camp in Paris’s chic first arrondissement was a public inconvenience for residents and businesses, including shops in the busy commercial district, and an eyesore for the police prefecture, which started to dismantle the camp from Tuesday morning. "There’s no question of allowing tents to be set up on a public thoroughfare,” a police prefecture representative told AFP.

"The police tried to remove migrants from their makeshift housing by force. They wanted to remove the tents without offering to rehouse them," said an eyewitness from Utopia 56.

‘State inaction’

After protracted negotiations between the prefecture, Paris City Hall and the NGO, the families were finally given a room in the City Hall building. "For this unacceptable situation, we are in fact paying for the state's inaction," Ian Brossat, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of emergency accommodation and refugee protection, told AFP

"The city is aware of the situation of these families and we have called on the state services to find a solution, especially as most of these people are asylum seekers and should therefore be able to benefit from some form of care," he added.

While Utopia 56 is delighted with this temporary solution taken by the Paris City Council, it remains wary and is waiting "to see the proposals of the political players." According to Brossat, "half of the families have been referred to hotels and accommodation facilities. The other half are still warm in City Hall," he said in a tweet.

Nevertheless, the association has been calling for a "global overhaul of the initial welcome" for many months.

"As long as people are not taken care of upon their arrival in France, the passage to the street will remain a necessary stage," said de Macellus.

 

More articles