480 homeless migrants, including women and children, were given shelter on Thursday evening after they occupied Place de la République in the heart of Paris for several hours.
At around 6.30pm on Thursday March 25, 480 people set up their tents and took over Place de la République, in the center of Paris. They were helped by several associations working with migrants, including Utopia 56, which had already launched a similar initiative.
This time, the action took place on the occasion of the "Nuit de la solidarité" (Night of Solidarity), an annual operation to identify the homeless. These associations used this protest act to "demand immediate, stable and decent accommodation" for these exiles, according to their joint press release.
Making migrants visible
"Our job is also to help make these people and their situation visible," Yann Manzi, founder of Utopia 56, told InfoMigrants, "We don't want any more camps, we want housing. The government seems to be unaware that it is leaving the most vulnerable among us sleeping outside, in the middle of a pandemic", says the activist.
Among the migrants gathered in Place de la République were about twenty families, housed every evening by Utopia 56 thanks to its citizen network. The others live in the streets of northern Paris "hidden under bridges", for fear of being evicted by the police, Manzi explained. The majority are from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
Most of them are asylum seekers, rejected asylum seekers or refugees who have been through the Dublin regulation procedure. Others are statutory refugees who are unable to get a roof over their heads despite their regularization and they are forced to sleep outside, on the dirty Parisian pavements.
This is the case of Safai, a 24-year-old Afghan who has been living in France since 2019. "I got my refugee status a fortnight ago but nothing has changed," he explained to AFP, "I sometimes sleep in the street or I sublet a bed when I can. Without a roof over my head, without sleep, my life is blocked, I hope that tonight they will find a solution for us," added the young man in front of his red tent.
After several hours of negotiations with the authorities, the associations obtained shelter for all of the migrants present in Place de la République. Around midnight, the migrants were put on buses and directed to hotels or gymnasiums. At 2am, the operation ended peacefully.
"This occupation proves that things can be organized without violence", said Manzi, referring to the last occupation of the Place de la République at the end of November, which was evacuated by force, arousing strong emotions even in the ranks of the government.
The associations also plan to organize other events of this type in the regions, and again in Paris if the situation does not change in the coming months.
"If so many people find themselves on the streets again in the future, we will set up tents again on the Place de la République," warns Romal Safi, a 26-year-old Afghan refugee and member of an Afghan solidarity organization in Paris, (the Association Solidarité et Culturelle des Afghans à Paris --Asca).