Hundreds of homeless migrants and their supporters set up tents in front of the Paris City Hall on Thursday evening to demand better accommodation. Mostly families from sub-Saharan Africa and unaccompanied minors, they pitched their tents as the bells of the building rang at 8pm.
On Thursday evening, 300 people including single women, families and unaccompanied minors installed more than 250 tents on the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville in Paris. Alongside migrant aid organization Utopia 56, they demanded dignified and permanent housing solutions from the government.
"Among the people who are staying here are some families who were not taken care of in the Villemin garden, plus newcomers as well as people with legal status, and people who have been evicted from their homes and have been referred to us by the DAL organization (Droit au Logement) because the rental evictions have resumed," Utopia 56 co-founder Yann Manzi told InfoMigrants.
Earlier this month, hundreds of migrants had camped out in the Villemin garden in a similar way to demand emergency accommodation.
Long wait for social housing
Utopia 56 says that the people present outside the building as well as the Utopia 56 teams, will remain camped out in front of Paris' City Hall until real accommodation solutions are put in place, though Manzi said he suspected they would only last until Friday afternoon.
"There are more and more people who have their papers sorted living out on the street. This morning, for example, a Congolese couple who have their papers woke up in their tents to go to work. He works in construction and she is a cleaning lady," Manzi said.
"In France, people with legal status can be thrown out of their accommodation after three months and the waiting lists for social housing in Paris take almost ten years," he added.
"This policy of not welcoming exiled people is a choice. Everything is built to discourage these people at the expense of European values, their integration and human rights," said Maël De Marcelus, Utopia 56 Paris coordinator.
Utopia 56 shelters at capacity
Utopia 56 said in a press release published on Thursday that their support network is at capacity. "For the past two weeks, our network of solidarity shelters has been saturated. Every day, we distribute tents to dozens of homeless families sleeping under bridges on the outskirts of Paris. The prefecture and the city hall of Paris have been informed of these unacceptable conditions. The prefecture has ignored our warnings. And City Hall says the (central) government is responsible."
Journalist Clément Lanot tweeted a video from the protests, writing that "300 people (mostly women and children) will spend the night outside in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris" to protest the current policies.
Utopia 56 said that the authorities had told them and the migrants camped out in Villemin garden that they would be taken care off when they evactuated the park in Paris' 10th arrondissement on June 3.
"The prefect Marc Guillaume promised our teams to take care of the families left without a solution," the organization said. "In addition, a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the International Day of Refugees on June 20 stated: 'France reaffirms its commitment to the reception, protection and integration of refugees.'"
Many migrant camps in Paris metro area
In a letter sent by Paris City Hall to the regional prefecture on June 23, Ian Brossat called the state's attention "to the situation of asylum-seeking families without accommodation solutions in Paris, the reports of whom are multiplying." Brossat is a deputy of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and directly in charge of welcoming refugees.
"In order not to allow this situation to continue, at the risk of seeing large-scale encampments such as those that have existed in recent years in the north of Paris, we ask that families be taken care of as soon as possible," Brossat wrote.
This is not the first time migrant activists erected tents in front of the Paris city hall to protest housing conditions and policies. Last summer, a group of 218 migrants -- including many single women, one person using a wheelchair, eight children under three years of age, and even a two-week-old infant -- set up camp on the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. According to Utopia 56, half of them were newcomers, the others half were in the process of being processed or have a residence permit or refugee status.