In the past 12 months, authorities have carried out more than 1,000 evictions of makeshift shelters across France, a new report shows. Aid groups warn that the evictions only make the situation worse for those whose homes are dismantled.
Hundreds of camps, squats and shantytowns have been dismantled by police and at least 1,079 makeshift homes evicted in metropolitan areas of France over the past year. These were among the findings based on numerous field and press reports and presented in a new study compiled by NGOs and aid groups, including Fondation Abbé Pierre, Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), The Human Rights League (LDH) and the National Collective Organisation for Human Rights Romeurope.
According to the report, 86 percent of the evictions were carried out on France’s northern coast, mainly in and around Calais and Grande-Synthe, where authorities have dismantled so-called “tent groupings” on an almost daily basis. The report also identified northeastern Paris, where hundreds of migrants have set up illegal tent camps in the past few years, as a main eviction target, along with shantytowns in the greater île-de-France region, Nantes and Bordeaux.
Aid groups say the evictions, which have been carried out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, are only worsening France’s problems with inadequate housing.
InfoMigrants spoke to Orane Lamas, who works for Doctors of the World as project officer for the health program for people who live in inadequate housing conditions.
InfoMigrants: According to the report, an average of 388 people are evicted from their makeshift homes in metropolitan France every day. What are your thoughts on this?
Orane Lamas: Taking the COVID-19 lockdown and the extension of the winter truce into account [French authorities are not allowed to evict people during the coldest months of the year. The winter truce was extended until July 10 this year due to the pandemic, eds note], you would have thought that we’d see a significant decrease in evictions this year. But despite the COVID-19 crisis, the evictions resumed when the state of emergency ended in July. In October, and despite the fact that the number of new COVID-19 infections was increasing sharply, authorities ramped up evictions, which they usually do at this time of the year [ahead of the winter truce].
At the end of the day, there’s not much improvement from last year: 1,159 evictions were carried out between November 2018 and October 2019 compared with 1,079 in the past 12 months. It’s not a big difference.
So we’re asking ourselves, why? Sure, an eviction takes place after being ordered by a court or a municipal decree in order to reclaim land that has been occupied, or is simply considered too dangerous for people to live on, but you also have to factor in a certain degree of discrimination here.
How are people affected by these evictions?
Orane Lamas: Aside from the trauma of being evicted, 84 percent of these evictions don’t result in the people being offered rehousing solutions. So the evictions don’t actually solve anything. Quite the contrary.
The evicted people are left without a roof over their heads. They try to find a new place to set up camp and to avoid getting caught [and thereby avoid getting evicted again]. They seek out areas that are as hard to find as possible. Most of the time, these places are difficult to access by car, and there is no access to running water or other essentials. Some of these places can even be dangerous, which is the case for the Saint-Denis camp [on the northeastern outskirts of Paris] which is located next to the highway. And so these people are becoming increasingly invisible, and find themselves further and further away from the city and its community and services.
This also means they have less access to healthcare and other services they have rights to. For aid groups, it can sometimes be difficult to find these people. Evicting people means you disperse them. A person who’s been living in Seine-Saint-Denis, for example, might end up on the other side of île-de-France all of a sudden. In those cases, all the work that an aid group might have put in to helping that person is lost, and another aid group needs to start from scratch in helping the person.
For children, an eviction might mean that they have their schooling disrupted: If they end up far from where they used to live, they might not be able to go to school anymore.
And, in 44 percent of cases, peoples’ property gets destroyed or confiscated during an eviction. For some people, a tent or a blanket is all they own. We don’t understand the point of these types of destructions… In the end, these evictions only worsen peoples’ situation.
How can these situations be avoided?
Orane Lamas: We have to help these people, already before they are evicted, so that they can get back up on their feet. In 2018, the government instructed the country’s prefects to put strategies into place to eliminate the shantytowns in their regions. The idea was to act preemptively and thus avoid these shantytowns from being reconstructed.
But the problem is that the order only focuses on people who come from the European Union. People from outside the European Union have not been taken into account at all.
The question then becomes: how do you deal with a shantytown population that consists of different nationalities? Will Moldavians or other non-EU citizens be handled the same way as, for example, Romanians?