• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Migrant camps emerge in the heart of Paris

Ben McPartland · 30 Apr 2015, 16:35

Published: 30 Apr 2015 16:35 GMT+02:00

Any mention of squalid migrant camps in France and most would think of those in and around Calais, but in recent weeks two temporary settlements have sprung up in the heart of the French capital.

They are occupied by almost 500 migrants, mostly from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.

One is near the Gare d’Austerlitz close to the river Seine and the other is located underneath the overground Metro tracks, just around the corner from the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar terminal.

The site, which is slightly sheltered from the elements by the tracks, is home to around 250 migrants who spend their nights and much of their days huddled in the 80 or so tents that have been provided by charities.

It is not in the most upmarket suburb of the capital, but just a short walk from the Sacre Coeur Basilica and Montmartre.

One of the charities providing basic help and provisions is Emmaus Solidarité, which has been tasked by the Town Hall in Paris with coordinating efforts of all the various humanitarian associations.

"These are people who have experienced tragedy and trauma throughout their challenging migration route,” Bruno Morel, the head of Emmaus, told the Journal du Dimanche website.

“These camps are expanding, but the conditions there are not adequate. We can give initial humanitarian relief, but we need solutions for lodging,” he added.

The location of the camp by La Chapelle Metro is handy for the migrants, most of whom are only in Paris as a stop-off point to their final destinations, be it the UK or Norway.

It is close to Gare du Nord, from where they hope to sneak onto a train to Calais, just another stop-off point on their way to the UK. 

“I have tried three times to get on a train to Calais, but each time the police caught me and threw me off,” 21-year-old Amanuel, from Eritrea tells The Local (see picture below).

“We try to hide in the toilets, but it’s difficult. We’ll try again. That’s our life for the moment,” he said.

“But we hope it will get better once we reach the UK.”

(Amanuel, 21, from Eritrea, pictured here on the left, hopes to make it to the UK)

The migrants rely on charity soup kitchens or the goodwill of passersby to provide them with food and perhaps a little money. Several portable urinals have been set up around the camp and there is a public toilet nearby.

The site is strewn with empty water bottles, tattered mattresses and blankets, left behind by those who have moved on.

Some of the migrants say they have been told they will have to leave shortly as the camp will be closed by the time the summer tourist season starts.

“When people come to Paris, they don’t want to see all these tents,” said one man from Morocco.

Most of the migrants have made the perilous journey from the Horn of Africa via Libya and across the Mediterranean via the notorious traffickers’ boats, several of which have capsized in recent weeks leading to the deaths of hundreds of people and increased pressure on EU leaders to make efforts to deal with the crisis.

“We had friends who died on the boats," says Amanuel as others around him nodded or bowed their heads.

“It’s very dangerous. I spent three days on the boat with around 350 people and you don’t feel safe. We know the stories. We all know we may drown.

“But Libya is even more dangerous than the Mediterranean Sea. I spent three months there waiting to get a boat. There are bad people there and they do bad things to women," he said.

“In Libya the migrants don’t live in camps like here. They live on the streets, there’s no food and no water for them,” he said.

Amanuel said most people like him had to pay traffickers €1,600 just to get to Libya and then another €1,800 for a place on a boat across the Mediterranean.

They arrive in Paris penniless and without any official papers and most of them with just the clothes they traveled in.

Although they are in the most visited city in the world, for young men like him and his 18-year-old friend Biemnet, they have no desire to explore.

Story continues below…

“We just stay in this area, around the camp. We might walk for 30 minutes to a place where we can get a free cup of tea, but that’s it,” he said.

“We are in a new country and we don’t know the city. We don’t feel in danger, but it is very cold,"  said Amanuel, shivering in the Paris rain.

Most of the young men have heard about the conditions for the migrants in Calais, where French authorities have forced them to set up camp on wasteland on the edge of the city.  

One aid organisation recently told The Local that it is the “worst refugee camp in Europe”.

They also know the perils of trying to get across the Channel to the UK, with several migrants having been crushed under the wheels of lorries or having suffocated in their holds.

Many ask why the UK makes it so hard for people to get there.

But Amanuel and his fellow migrants are determined to go anyway.

“We need to get to Calais and to England, but it appears there’s no chance".

(Tourist buses pass by the camp. But it may be gone by the summer season.)

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Rogues' go on trial for ripping shirts of French execs
Photo: AFP

A court in France will decide whether ripping the shirt of your bosses back is all part and parcel of a French labour dispute.

Hollande dealt major blow as jobless rate shoots up
Photo: AFP

The news could dissuade President François Hollande from even running for re-election.

Aussie TV show accused of staging French burkini row
Photo: Channel 7 screengrab

Was an Australian TV report about France's burkini ban a set up to portray the French as "anti-Muslim"?

Five ways Paris is better than it was 15 years ago
All photos: AFP

Here's how one man says Paris has changed for the better over his last 15 years in the city.

Man in 60s wounds two in France supermarket shooting
Photo: AFP

A police SWAT team has surrounded gunman's apartment.

Paris makes 'history' by banning cars on river bank

The French capital is going green with a vengeance.

France's hospital doctors stage strike to highlight crisis
Photo: AFP

Unions have called for a "massive" walk-out among hospital doctors.

France's last 'real Camembert' cheese fights for survival
All photos: Charly Triballeau/AFP

It's a cheese maker's take on David and Goliath.

PSG's Serge Aurier sentenced to jail for attack on policeman
Photo: AFP

PSG player had attacked a police officer outside a night club on the Champs Elysées.

Paris city chiefs ready to let nudists hang out in park
Photo: AFP

A nudist park in Paris? "We're going to do it," says City Hall.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
2,725
jobs available