A group of about 200 young migrants and organizations working with them occupied an abandoned school in Paris on Tuesday, April 4 | Photo: Utopia 56
A group of about 200 young migrants and organizations working with them occupied an abandoned school in Paris on Tuesday, April 4 | Photo: Utopia 56

Earlier in the week on Tuesday evening, a group of more than 200 young migrants alongside several organizations, who work with migrants and asylum seekers, occupied an abandoned school in Paris' 16th arrondissement.

The group, composed of isolated and unaccompanied young migrants, decided to occupy the school to raise awareness of the problems they face in accommodation issues. They say every evening, they are confronted with "police harassment" on the streets of the French capital, which prevents them from finding a place to sleep for the night.

On Tuesday (April 4), around 200 unaccompanied minors and their supporters moved into the abandoned school in the upmarket 16th arrondissement in Paris in hope of making themselves heard.

The same school had in fact already been previously occupied by migrants in 2021.

The organization Utopia 56, which works with migrants and asylum seekers in France, tweeted details about the occupation. In their tweet, they explained that they were "peacefully occupying the abandoned school in the 16th arrondissement of Paris."

They added that they hoped this would encourage authorities to "provide a definitive and adequate solutions to solving the problem of young people sleeping on the streets. This is urgent."

In a press release, the migrants and organisations working with them said that for the last three months, "hundreds of adolescent migrants have been sleeping on the streets of Paris, confronted with cold, hunger and police harassment, which includes having their personal possessions destroyed."

Young migrants increasingly isolated

Since last year, the situation for these young people has effectively got worse, as having migrant encampments on the streets of Paris is strictly forbidden.

In fact, it was never legal to pitch a tent in a public space but previously, authorities tended to leave young people alone so that they could sleep in small groups in parks. All that was expected of them was to leave in the early hours of the morning with their tents and sleeping bags.

But then things changed.

Now, police officers systematically dismantle these makeshift camps, without offering any alternative form of accommodation. They target the tents regardless of the size of the actual camp. The result of this new policy is that unaccompanied migrant minors are now forced to find places where they can hide -- or sleep alone or in very small groups in a bid to not to attract attention from the police.

This is the kind of reception that a youth named Alpha has witnessed: The 15-year-old told InfoMigrants that he had arrived in France just a week earlier. He joined a group of other young migrants on the streets -- but has already experienced being moved by the police twice in that short time.

"My friends were scared. They ran away, they didn’t want to be expelled [from France]. I don’t know where they went to. I am alone now," he explained.

It is this type of isolation which is worrying groups who work with migrants and asylum seekers: Young people who try and remain below the radar often experience poor mental and physical health because of this state of isolation. They can also become the target of traffickers and criminals of all types.

'No interest in finding a solution'

Occupying the school, the organizers hope, will contribute to bringing an end to this sense of isolation and grab the relevant authorities' attention: "The aim is to stay in the school until [the authorities] propose a solution. When we occupied this place two years ago, we were offered a solution that same evening," said Nikolai Posner, coordinator of Utopia 56 in Paris.

"We are asking that these young people are put on the register and are offered help by children's social services" -- at least for as long as it takes for them to have their cases reexamined in the children's courts, Posner adds.

The majority of the affected migrants are not being recognized as minors by authorities, which also is something they are trying to appeal. During those appeals, however, they are not offered any help and are left to fend for themselves, according to Posner.

The organizations taking part in the occupation demand "multi-agency help" for young people to offer "solutions adapted to their individual needs." They are also asking that the young minors be offered "stable accommodation options within the Île-de-France."

The press release accompanying the occupation also highlighted the fact that authorities don't appear to be interested in moving forward "so that lasting and constructive solutions" are found:

"Despite our repeated demands, the prefecture for the Île-de-France as well as the Secretary of State for the Protection of Childhood, Charlotte Caubel, have repeatedly refused to put in place an exchange between all the organizations working with these people."

This article was translated from the French original by Emma Wallis


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