Credit: Mehdi Chebil
There is already a line in front of 56 Boulevard Ney, near the Porte de la Chapelle metro station. Dozens of migrants are waiting for breakfast to be handed out when meal preparations are disrupted by an aggressive young addict.
A few meters away, Nilab, 19, is waiting to be served with her three brothers and sisters. The family fled Afghanistan three years ago. Since they arrived in Paris three weeks ago, Nilab, her siblings and her mother have been bouncing from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. They spend their days on the streets.
Mortaza and Sana, four-year-old twins, and three-year-old Amir, seem accustomed to eating their breakfast while standing on a sidewalk. The menacing addict, however, leaves them stunned.
Last week, Nilab had cut her little sister’s hair short so it would stay clean despite the lack of hygiene. "I'm afraid my brothers and sister will get sick on the streets," she says.
For several weeks now, the 700 or so migrants living in deplorable conditions at La Chapelle have been existing alongside the drug addicts whose makeshift shelters, located a few dozen meters from theirs, were dismantled at the end of June. Since then, NGOs have warned of a dangerous mixing of populations, where misery rubs shoulders with misery, and people high on crack wander among young migrant children.
the end of July, unable to cope with the growing level of violence and the
presence of the drug addicts, the group Solidarity Migrants Wilson, which had
been in charge of distributing meals, threw in the towel. The city of Paris
hired another organization, Aurore, to take over.
9:30 am: A peaceful breakfast
Breakfast distribution is calm. Aurore hands out between 600 and 700 breakfasts every day between 9am and 12pm. Migrants receive the same daily platter, consisting of a hot drink, two rolls, a few squares of chocolate, a box of fruit juice and a compote.
almost a miracle that the distribution goes smoothly—a few days ago there was nothing but tension at the site. Addicts and migrants have already come to
blows. "Sometimes drug users arrive, get upset and knock over all the food
on the tables,” Slimane, a volunteer, told InfoMigrants in July. “To avoid
problems, we have to serve them first.”
But today the situation is quiet. Barriers separate the migrants from the addicts. Once the migrants get their food they settle on the low railings that surround the yellow patch of garbage-strewn grass in the center of Boulevard Ney. Some are still half asleep, others talk to each other. A young man is lost in a book about South Sudan and Darfur.
10 am: Medical treatment on the street
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has set up a mobile healthcare clinic on the sidewalk across the street. The NGO will be there every Tuesday from 10:30 am to 4 pm through the end of August. Starting in September, consultations will be held on Thursdays.
can get basic medical care in the mobile clinic. "The people we see come to
get treatment for everything that life on the street can bring," from
superficial wounds to headaches and toothaches, a member of the team says.
MSF isn’t the only organization providing medical assistance. The volunteer collective FAST (First Aid Support Team) has set up just next to the water taps installed by the city, and also provides the migrants with basic care.
Elena is a nurse. She explains that the migrants she takes care of tend to suffer from dehydration and malnutrition, but also from problems related to the poor hygienic conditions in which they live. She's sitting on a bench with a young man and explaining how to correctly take the painkiller he’s been given. Beside her, another nurse is listening to a patient’s lungs with a stethoscope.
11 am : The Afghan’s shelters
The distribution of breakfast continues. Volunteers from Solidarity Migrants Wilson hand out hygiene kits and clean clothes. A crowd quickly forms. Migrants suffer from the lack of hygiene inherent in life on the street, especially since the public showers on Boulevard Ney are closed during the summer.
A little further down the boulevard, about a hundred people – mostly Afghans – have built shelters using metal construction barriers. The nationalities don’t mix much here. Afghans stick to each other and keep their distance from the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who are usually from Sudan, Chad or Mali.
Since the dismantling of the refugee camps at Porte de la Villette and those near the Canal Saint Martin in the spring, migrants who were not given places - or did not want places – in shelters, regrouped here.
Afghans traded their tents for shacks made out of construction barriers.
These makeshift shelters don’t protect them from bad weather - when it's
hot they turn into furnaces and when it rains water trickles onto their
belongings - but they allow the migrants to create spaces where they can have a
This late morning, some of the Afghan migrants are trying to call the OFII (French Office for Immigration and Integration) to get appointments and register their asylum applications. But their efforts are in vain—the OFII tweeted in early August that the phone number the migrants are using is no longer in service.
Samadjita and Hassan-Bobacar also need information. The childhood friends, who say they are 16 and 15 years old respectively, left Chad together. They arrived in Paris on August 5 after fleeing the jihadist group Boko Haram, which murdered their parents. As minors, they are entitled to protection but they don’t know how to start the formal process.
For the past ten days they have come to eat the breakfast that Aurore hands out. They spend their nights in Aubervilliers, near the ring road circling Paris' inner city. "We're cold because we only have a small box to sleep on," says Samadjita.
two young boys say they have never had a problem with drug addicts at Porte de
la Chapelle, but they have had issues with the police: "They prevent us
from sleeping the whole night." Between the police and the cold, the boys
only get an hour or two of sleep a night.
Since the dismantling of several refugee camps in May, police have been ordered to prevent any new ones from popping up in Paris. Migrants who gather to get a few hours of sleep at the Porte de la Chapelle and the Porte d’Aubervilliers are systematically woken and dispersed. Only the little Afghan camp made from construction barriers has been allowed, at least for the moment, to stay.
pm: Calm restored
The breakfast distribution is finished, Boulevard Ney has emptied and the rats have stormed the lawn in the central median. The two Chadian teenagers go to the MSF mobile clinic because Hassan-Bobacar has a bad toothache.
A member of the NGO is going to take the boys to DEMIE, a Red Cross facility that gives assistance to migrants who are underage.
Every evening, the same ritual takes place at Porte d'Aubervilliers. Starting at 6 pm, dozens of people flock to the Anaïs-Nin Garden, where volunteers from Utopia 56, an organization that works with migrants, try to find housing for as many unaccompanied minors, single women and families who couldn’t find places in a shelter as possible. The group operates a network of ordinary citizens who agree to open their homes to migrants for a night or two.
"We find shelter for about 70 people every night, but we can’t always accommodate couples,” says Alix Geoffroi, project coordinator for Utopia 56.
Among the families waiting to be given lodging are Kiraz, her husband and her six children, who are between the ages of 3 and 17. The family left Syria in 2015, after their neighborhood in Idlib was bombed. Little Youssef, six years old, still bears the marks of the attack. He was badly burned on his wrist and stomach. The family has already been in Paris for eight months and is desperate to get asylum and housing. They spend their days on the streets.
They eat in the evening thanks to the dinner provided by an organization called Restaurants of the Heart. Meals are distributed in the Anaïs-Nin Garden at 8 pm every evening from Tuesday to Friday.
Tonight, the line is already long. "The atmosphere is always tense on Tuesday," a volunteer from Restaurants of the Heart says. "We are not here on weekends or Mondays, so people are hungry when we come back."
13, Kiraz’s eldest daughter, has been tasked with keeping watch so she can tell
her parents when the meals start being handed out. After dinner, around 10 pm,
the family will be accompanied by someone from Utopia 56 to their accommodation
for the night. Kiraz is tired of sleeping in a new place every day.
"Sometimes we don’t even sleep in a room; last night we were in an
office," she says.
While members of the Utopia 56 team are making sure that everyone will have somewhere to stay for the night, other volunteers have lit a few candles on a cake to celebrate a birthday. The children all come running. Everyone sings, and slices of cake are handed out along with little packages of candy. For a few brief minutes, the young migrants at the Porte d'Aubervilliers are children again.