16-year-old Ali comes from Guinea Conakry. He arrived in Paris a few weeks ago and is still trying to get officially registered as a minor. Without a support network or anyone to take care of him, this teenager is struggling to cope. It's especially hard for him to find accommodation, at a time when temperatures are getting colder.
Ali* arrived in Paris at the beginning of January after crossing through Mali, Morocco and Spain. Alone, with no identity papers, no support network and no community to join, he has been wandering around the north of the French capital for the past few weeks. He is waiting for his birth certificate to arrive and then he will be able to apply for the official status of minor to receive protection and help from the state.
For this teenager who had never left his country before, winter in Paris is an ordeal. Ali struggles to find any clothes to wear or any food to eat. He has nowhere to wash. Above all, he isn't able to find a bed under a roof so as not to "freeze" outside.
Ali tells his story.
"It's not going well. Remember when it snowed last week [Saturday, January 16]? I had never experienced snow before. In Guinea, it's not like this. I'm not used to all this cold: it hurts everywhere.
That night, when it snowed, I was given a hotel room. But it was just for one night. The next morning, I was sent back on the street. I'm outside most of the time, around the Gare de l’Est train station, sleeping under a tent that an association gave me.
Most of the time, though, I can't sleep, I'm too cold. When that happens, I go for a walk, it helps me to defrost. Otherwise, my feet are completely frozen. Feet are complicated here.
I think I have to change my shoes. I have a good pair of Nike runners, but I've been wearing them for too long. They're hurting me now.
After the snow, it continued to be very cold. The next night I went on a night bus. I sometimes get on any bus going anywhere, it doesn’t matter. I get on the first bus that shows up just to stay warm and dry.
This week, I did a COVID test, because I had a pain in my heart and in my lungs and I was coughing a lot. MSF [Doctors Without Borders] sent me to a pharmacy in the north of Paris. The test was negative, I'm so happy, it's really good news. I was very stressed by this.
I think I'm just generally sick. My body isn’t used to this climate and I’m not coping well, physically or mentally.
All I need is a place to stay, a place to sleep.
I had a meeting with a lawyer and she helped me. She told me I have to wait for my birth certificate to arrive from Guinea. When I receive it, I can register for protection and help, at least that's what I believe. I will be able to have a safe place to sleep. That's the hardest part: not having a place to sleep while waiting to get registered.
I've been here for just over three weeks. In the evenings, I go to an association, I don't know their name, they are very nice. But they are not able to find places for us to sleep ... They give us tents.
I know that I am not a priority for housing in the emergency centers. There are many families, many children, it is not easy. The associations have to take care of all these people before me.
During the day, I often go to the MSF office in the north of the city. I can get free wifi there. That's how I got in touch with InfoMigrants and I can stay in contact with my family back home. When I'm not there, I walk all day long. There is nothing else to do.
The MSF people gave me underwear and socks. I put them in my pockets. I don't know where to find showers. I also don't know where to find food apart from at MSF.
In Paris, at the very beginning, I hung around with a group that I met in the street. It was good at first, but then it all went bad. One morning, after sleeping at the Gare de l'Est train station, I woke up and they had stolen my bag. I had lots of papers in it, details of appointments with MSF people.
I didn't ask MSF for a new backpack. What good is it when you don't have anything to put in it?
At the moment, I am hanging out with just one other person, a young guy of my age, and I trust him. It’s easier than being completely alone.
It's hard, because at the Gare de l’Est train station, the police sometimes come, so we hide and wait for them to leave. They often tell us not to stay there. There are very nice police officers, but there are others who are aggressive. There is one who took my tent and threw it in a rubbish bin.
Yesterday, the police told us to leave. We found another hidden corner where there were homeless people, but they didn't want us to stay with them. So we got on a bus.
Now I am a little afraid. I'm afraid of dying in the street. No one can win against the cold."
* Name has been changed to protect identity.