Roughly 300 migrants are camping out under the national highway in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. Nearly every morning police officers order them to get out; and food distribution points keep getting pushed farther away from the heart of the French capital.
There’s anger written on the faces of the the men who have been living in a camp under the A1 highway bridge in the northern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis.
This morning, as happens every
morning, the police arrived around 6 am and ordered the migrants
installed on the esplanade in front of the tricolor "UEFA Euro
2016" poster to "get out". Only the tents, installed
on the dirt slope between the road and the esplanade, are allowed to
highways and major city thoroughfares, the camp has no benches to sit
on, no toilets, and only one water point for about 300 people. A
single wooden chair has been placed in the middle of the camp, but no
one seems to risk sitting on it.
further and further away
The camp right now has about 200 small tents, and every day, new ones are added. Volunteers from the French NGO Utopia 56 regularly visit the camp, which is inhabited by single men mostly hailing from Afghanistan.By late morning, there are only about 50 people in the camp. The others have left to get something to eat or to try to find a way to contact the Office of Integration and Immigration (Ofii) whose single phone line for asylum seekers is unreachable this morning.
The further the
migrant camps are from Paris, the more difficult it gets for people
living there to access food and clothing distributions. From the
Saint-Denis camp, migrants have to take the metro or walk almost an
hour to reach the Saint-Ouen gate where the Salvation Army has moved
its breakfast distribution since August 24.
access to information
Breakfasts are an
opportunity to fill stomachs and get hot beverages – and also to
enjoy the small comforts of tables and benches set up next to the
distribution stand. Asylum seekers can also take stock of their
situation with France Terre d'Asile, a migrant rights NGO, which has
installed a mobile truck a little further away. Some members of
Utopia 56 are also present to answer questions.
Gulkhan, 25, and
Taher, 16, look a little lost. The two friends from Afghanistan
arrived from Germany the day before and were directed to the
Saint-Denis camp by a friend of a friend. Utopia 56 explains to them
that Taher has to go for an evaluation in order to assert his
minority status and be taken into the care of the Children's Welfare
Agency (ASE). The teenager with thick black curls and most of his
face hidden behind a mask does not seem to believe it.
Tonight, he will
probably spend another night in the Saint-Denis camp with Gulkhan.
Like all those unable to get a tent, the two Afghans will instead lie
on a simple blanket on the ground next to the tents.
They are the ones
the police try to evacuate every morning. Sometimes, the operation is
muscular. Khan, a 23-year-old Afghan dressed in a military
camouflage-print outfit, says that a week earlier, the police used
tear gas to dislodge migrants here.
"The hardest part is that the police come every morning and tell us to get out," he says. "Sometimes, outside people also come and attack us or pick fights to steal our phones," he says. To try to protect themselves, the migrants in the camp now organize guard tours.Khan has been living in the camp for about a month after police on July 29 evacuated a sprawling camp in the northern Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers. Having been denied asylum, Khan filed an appeal before the National Asylum Court (CNDA).
The Saint-Denis camp
also includes newcomers and "Dublinés" (after the Dublin
Regulation that determines asylum applications
in the EU) who have spent months,
even years, crisscrossing Europe in search of international
protection that no country wants to grant them.
is sinking, we have to flee'
When asked why they
left home, many Afghans invariably have the same reaction: a slow,
pained smile followed by an intake of breath before offering a simple
explanation, as one migrant who declined to be identified put it:
"Afghanistan is sinking, we have to flee".
associations regularly denounce the living conditions in the camps
north of Paris and call for permanent accommodation solutions for
"The street is
a school of madness as well as indignity," warned Pierre Henry,
director general of France Terre d'Asile, in a recent interview with
for the public authorities to think about a long-term solution,"
said Pierre Jothy, a social worker with Utopia 56, "If the only
presence of the state for them is the police, who are always pushing
them further away, that's not acceptable."
So far, the state's response has been to dismantle migrant camps with police pushing migrants further away from Paris and deeper into the suburbs. Evacuations follow one after the other, and the camps are re-formed. The camp at Saint-Denis under the A1 highway is likely to be no exception.