In January, the French state secretary for children and families announced a future "ban on the placement of children in hotels". The vast majority of young people placed in hotels by the child welfare agency are unaccompanied foreign minors. Fatima*, now an adult, remembers her time being moved from hotel to hotel. This is her story.
Fatima is now 19 years old. When she arrived in France at the end of 2018 as a minor, this young girl from a West African country (which she does not wish to name) was taken into care by the Child Welfare Agency (ASE) and spent many months moving around hotels in the Paris region. Now living in a hostel for young workers, she has traumatic memories from those months of solitude in tiny and sometimes extremely unsanitary rooms.
"I arrived in France in December 2018. I went first to the Red Cross [to have my status as a minor assessed]. They sent me to stay in an Ibis hotel for a few days and then I was taken into the care of ASE.
They transferred me to a hotel in Paris, near the Strasbourg Saint-Denis metro station. It was tiny and not clean. There were cockroaches and bedbugs in my room and I got bitten. I stayed there from January to March 2019.
Then I was moved to a hotel in Vaujours [in Seine-Saint-Denis]. When I arrived, the room was very, very dirty. I went to ask the manager if I could have a brush to clean the room. He gave me a broken one. When I pointed out that I couldn't use it, he said, 'Fuck you, I don't know who you think you are.' He pushed me and he pulled the brush out of my hands.
I only stayed in that hotel for a week and then I just left by myself because it was no longer possible to stay there. I went to a friend's house.
'For the other two meals of the day, I had to make my own way'
I called the CAMNA [the unit for the support of unaccompanied minors who take care of young people placed at the ASE in Seine-Saint-Denis] to tell them what had happened with the manager. They told me that it wasn't their problem, that it wasn't serious.
So I turned to Hotel Service Plus [an organization in charge of finding hotel rooms for young people who are under the care of the CAMNA NDLR]. They were nice, they apologised and told me that it wasn't the first time there had been problems between young people and this manager.
They found me a room at the Hotel de la Paix in Montreuil [in Seine-Saint-Denis]. It was a bit cleaner there because there was a cleaning lady, but the manager was very brusque. I stayed there for three months.
I had breakfast at the hotel but for the other two meals of the day, I had to make my own way. During all this time I didn't have a job and the Camna didn't give me any allowance**. So to eat, I went to this woman who then became my real support. I ended up staying with her for almost a year, but last April she had to go back to her native country because she had a work opportunity.
'I had never lived like this before'
I then found myself at Le Parisien hotel in Pantin [Seine-Saint-Denis]. It was the worst place I've ever been.
I had never lived like this before. I didn't have enough to eat. There was only one shower and one toilet in the hotel and neither of them had locks on the doors. The customers from the restaurant next door also used this toilet.
I was the only girl in the hotel. There were several times when I was genuinely afraid of being assaulted. I avoided washing myself there. There was no CCTV camera, so if I had been mugged there would have been no evidence.
I stayed there for ten months. To eat, I went to the Red Cross, the Restos du Coeur and sometimes to friends' houses.
I felt very, very lonely staying in these hotels. I felt I was treated like a sub-human. I got involved with associations just to have someone to talk to. Thankfully, these people called me all the time. It was thanks to them that I was able to keep going.
Living in a hotel is terrifying. You can get mugged, a lot of things can happen. You feel neglected because there is no supervision, you are alone."
**Young people in ASE care are meant to receive meal vouchers or an allowance in cash to buy food when meals cannot be taken at the hotel. Young people who are attending school can have their lunch at the school canteen. Minors are also not allowed to work in France, with some exceptions (apprenticeship contracts, paid internships, etc.). You must be 18 years old to be able to enter into an employment contract.
*The first name has been changed