Migrants await evacuation from the Saint-Denis camp on November 17, 2020. Credit: Reuters
Migrants await evacuation from the Saint-Denis camp on November 17, 2020. Credit: Reuters

In a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, French health teams on Tuesday conducted tests and carefully explained sanitation guidelines to migrants relocated from a dismantled camp. InfoMigrants reports from a hotel in a Parisian suburb where 60 migrants have been provided accommodation.

Wearing protective masks and disposable suits, medical team members knock on room doors at a hotel in the Parisian suburb of Clamart, where 60 migrants have been provided accommodation. At each door, they ask migrants if they’re willing to get tested at a COVID-19 screening room set up on the same floor of the hotel. Some refuse, the fear of a positive result seeming to dissuade them, while others accept the offer.

On Tuesday, November 17, police dismantled an illegal camp in the northern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis for public health reasons. Now, the roughly 2,500 migrants living in the makeshift camp are being provided accommodation and COVID-19 tests.

Those who test positive can go to health centres, where they can receive appropriate medical care. According to Luc Ginot, public health director at the Île-de-France Regional Health Agency, "the rate of acceptance of the tests was extremely high" during the screenings conducted in the roughly 30 accommodation centers requisitioned after the dismantling.

The tests are conducted mainly by teams from the Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris (APHP), the municipal emergency service SAMU Social, and the Red Cross. Results are expected in the next few days and should provide authorities a precise idea of the contamination rate among the occupants of the Saint-Denis camp before it was cleared.

Aluali Mohamad, a Sudanese man who arrived in France in 2018, quietly returns to his hotel room after being tested. The antigen test results are expected within half-an-hour and Mohamad says he’s happy with his new accommodation, which seems a world away from the squalid conditions at the camp.

As soon as he arrived at the hotel, Mohamad was given face masks and sanitary gel, as well as instructions on how to protect himself. Most of the migrants in the hotel, all single men, have been accommodated in single rooms, which makes social distancing easier. In addition, a service provider will deliver breakfast and two meals to their rooms.

Explaining the rules, following regulations

Respecting social distancing and health guidelines are all the more important since the migrants -- mostly Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians -- are not the only guests at the hotel. During the arrivals, which were spread throughout the day, careful instructions were given and translated by members of Coallia, the association tasked with the reception of the migrants.

Patrick Meunier, Coallia’s Paris regional director, stressed the importance of respecting sanitary measures and internal regulations, getting migrants to sign agreements before being allowed to settle in their rooms. The rules include an overnight curfew starting at 9 p.m., which will be enforced by a security guard on the premises.

For his part, Souad Bouhaïk of CADA (Centre d'accueil de demandeurs d'asile), which handles accommodation for asylum seekers, explains to a group of young people – many with just a garbage bag containing their belongings – that state and NGO workers will be carrying out health and administrative assessments of migrants staying in this hotel. Over the next few days, the migrants will meet with medical staff and social workers who will help them assess their situation and provide guidance.

It’s been a busy day for the entire team responsible for managing the reception and settlement of the migrants, as the number of arrivals initially planned has been significantly increased. Afridi, a migrant from Pakistan, is waiting for his turn to receive his room key-card. But before that, he must first pass a brief interview.

Standing near an elevator, he voices his satisfaction, in French, about leaving the "very difficult living conditions" at the Saint-Denis camp. Afridi hopes that his current accommodation situation, which lasts until mid-December, can be extended so he can maintain the sanitary conditions necessary to protect himself effectively against the virus.


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