Flimsy tents packed tightly, clothes strung across makeshift washing lines, rubbish piling up and lines of people queuing quietly for their next meal, cooked by volunteers.
It might sound like a scene from the Calais Jungle but it’s a road in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
Since the much-mediatized closure of the Jungle camp in Calais this week there have been worries among residents and authorities that hundreds of dispersed migrants, who refused to be sent to one of the 450 reception centres around France, will descend on Paris, shifting the humanitarian crisis from Calais to the capital.
Charles Drane, coordinator of an NGO that helps asylum-seekers sleeping rough in northeast Paris told AFP his charity was now feeding over 1,000 people a day, up from 700-800 a few days ago.
But the reality is that the migrant crisis in Paris has existed for some 18 months now. While numbers may have swelled a little this week, the situation is no worse than it has been for months.
Camps have sprung up and mushroomed underneath the Metro tracks near Jaures, Stalingrad and La Chapelle stations numerous times since last summer.
When the police move in to the close them, and bus everyone out to temporary accommodation, which they have done over 20 times since the beginning of the summer, the tents reappear within days.
Police have fenced off much of the areas underneath the overground Metro in the north east of Paris, but that just means homeless migrants have to find other places for their tents.
A member of staff at France Terre d’Asile, the organisation based near Jaures Metro station where migrants must initially register if they want to claim asylum in France, said the situation has long been critical in Paris, no matter what happened in Calais this week.
“The problem is already here. The refugees have always moved between Calais and Paris, often depending on what action police take down here,” the staff member, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Local.
In July police evacuated some 2,000 migrants from a sprawling “camp” outside the offices of France Terre d’Asile, but within hours new tents had been erected.
“The crisis is not going away anytime soon and it will be the same in Calais,” said the staff member.
Paris had been due to open up an official “humanitarian” camp in the north of city but it has been hit by delays. When and if it finally opens it will only hold 400 people and will only offer temporary accommodation.
Part of the problem, which might not surprise those with a knowledge of French bureaucracy, is that it takes months to process their applications.
During that time the French government has not shown the will to provide migrants with a roof over their heads until their applications are dealt with.
France Terre d’Asile can only register a small number of applications each day. After registering migrants are given an appointment with the prefecture of police, but there next available slots are not until January.
“They should be given a place to stay from day one, like in Germany,” said the staff member.
And in the meantime the migrants, who are mainly from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan, must wait outside in the growing cold and wet and rely on charities or locals to help them.
Many are taking steps to help their chances of staying in France. Dozens attend French classes in Place Stalingrad, run by volunteers (see photo below).
In the meantime some like Almas Khan, a 22-year-old from Afghanistan, have vowed to return to Calais and try once again to get to the UK.
“I want to see London Bridge and the London Eye,” he told The Local. “I have spent six months in a tent, either in Paris or in Calais. I have spent all my money. The French government has done nothing for us.”
His friend Almas Nazari, 32, added: “If they just gave us a home, some food, a little money, we would be happy. If they give us nothing, then we will stay in the streets.”
And as for the idea of going back to Afghanistan?
“Have you seen what is happening in Afghanistan? There is Isis, there is the Taliban. Of course we would go back if there was peace. Who wouldn’t want to go back to his home country? We would all return voluntarily.”
“But for the moment it’s not possible.”
Article source: https://www.thelocal.fr/20161028/after-calais-the-paris-migrant-crisis