A food distribution in northern Paris | Photo: InfoMigrants
A food distribution in northern Paris | Photo: InfoMigrants

Ali, a 15-year-old Guinean migrant whom InfoMigrants met at the beginning of the year, admitted that he does not always eat enough. The young man spends his days scouring the various food distribution points in Paris.

"Sometimes we don't eat, that's just the way it is," laughed Ali, a Guinean minor who arrived in France at the beginning of the year. The 15-year-old boy, who is staying in state-supported accommodation (a "social hotel") in Paris after spending several weeks on the streets, admitted that he was "sometimes hungry." The hotel where he is staying provides only one meal a day, around 6 p.m. "They do what they can, but sometimes it's not enough. I am often hungry. We have nothing in the morning and at noon. When the evening comes, we don't have enough with what the hotel gives us," he explained.

Ali spends his days in the food distribution lines so he can eat his fill and stock up on food "just in case". But in the last few weeks, the situation has become more complicated. "You can arrive at Porte de la Villette or Porte d'Aubervilliers around 3 or 4 p.m. to wait for a meal. But sometimes you get nothing. Everything is gone. The people from the nonprofit organizations tell you, 'I'm sorry. It's all finished'. And you realize that you won't have eaten all day."

Various Parisian organizations offer meal distributions in the capital, especially in the north of Paris. Some volunteers confirm what Ali said: supplies are running out. Non-profit organizations report a constant increase in the number of people receiving free meals and sometimes struggle to serve everyone.

'Before, we could give people a second helping, now that is no longer possible'

At least that's the observation of Solidarity Migrants Wilson, a collective that helps migrants and organizes a meal distribution every Tuesday evening at the Porte d'Aubervilliers. "A few weeks ago, we were serving 200 to 250 meals in the evening, and now we are at 400 to 450 meals," Philippe Caro, a member of the collective, told InfoMigrants. "The line is getting longer and longer. Before, we could give people a second helping, now that is no longer possible."

Solidarity Migrants Wilson's mobile teams, which travel by motorcycle around Paris to deliver food to people too far from distribution points, confirm the trend. "Before, the volunteers would come back with a surplus of food that they hadn't been able to get rid of. These days, they come back telling us, 'We had barely enough. We handed out everything.'"

'In the end, some people leave without having eaten'

At the organization One Soup for All, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, workers also say they cannot serve meals to everyone. "There have been 20% more people in the last few months," one of the group’s volunteers told InfoMigrants. "We currently distribute 650 meals a day, which is the maximum we can do. But we can't serve everyone. In the end, there are people who leave without having eaten, about 50 people every day."

The volunteer describes queues of several hundred people in front of their premises: "If the clients don't arrive by 3 p.m., it will be difficult for them to get a meal. At 4 p.m., there are already 500 people waiting."

Fewer citizen solidarity meals

For the organizations, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the already precarious situation of this vulnerable population. "More and more people are coming to meet us," the volunteer said. They are not only migrants or newcomers, "but also French people, young people, women, families, which we did not see before."

For Solidarity Migrants Wilson's Caro, the curfew has also complicated access to food. "Before, many Parisians would prepare food and hand it out it in the evening, in the street, to the homeless, to people who were hungry. There was a network of solidarity in place. But with the 7 p.m. curfew, I think a lot of meals are no longer distributed, people are afraid of being ticketed."

Ali noted that "solidarity meals" are indeed less numerous than before. "There was a lady who made Senegalese meals in the north of Paris. We used to go there, eat tchep [a Guinean speciality, spicy rice with vegetables and fish or meat], we were so happy. But now she's not there anymore, I don't know why. There are fewer people on the street at night to help us."

On days when food is scarce, Ali scours the north of Paris in search of food. "We move around all day. But when there is nothing, there is nothing. We don't get enough to eat, that's how it is. I am not the only one in this situation," he said, still laughing. " If you had told me before I left Guinea that in France people are hungry, I wouldn't have believed you. It's not what you see on TV. We didn't picture Paris being like this." 


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