Paris migrant crisis could spiral out of control, warn charities after two drownings and a stabbing
July 23, 2020
A tense migrant crisis in Paris risks spiralling out of control unless the French state intervenes, a group of charities including the Red Cross warned on Thursday, days after two refugees drowned in canals and a third was stabbed.
Their plea came as daggers are drawn between Paris’ Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, with each claiming the other has failed to deal with the increasingly desperate plight of migrants in the French capital ahead of the 2020 municipal elections.
Nearly 3,000 of them, many from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Nigeria, are now crammed into tents in three insalubrious camps in Paris, with charities estimating that 80 more are arriving every day.
More than half are based around the Millénaire supermarket on the banks of the Saint-Denis canal on the outskirts of the 19th arrondissement. French media have already dubbed the growing shanty town “the new Calais” after the notorious “jungle” camp in the northern French port, which was razed late 2016.
The bulk of the remainder, mainly Afghans, have set up camp even closer to the city centre by the trendy canal Saint-Martin.
On Thursday, migrant aid charities along with medical and homeless help groups and unions, warned that without “urgent” state intervention, “tragedies are inevitable” due to “tensions” and “a climate of extreme precariousness”.
On Sunday, a Sudanese migrant was seriously wounded after being stabbed during a fight at the Millénaire camp at the Porte de la Villette, where last week an Afghan migrant accidentally drowned in the Saint-Martin canal after falling in.
A second, unidentified, body was found in the Saint-Denis canal earlier this month. The signatories warned of a “very serious deterioration in the health and psychological state” of the migrants.
For weeks, aid workers have demanded police assistance due to fears for their security as tensions flare in the cramped and dirty conditions. Millénaire has only a handful of sanitary cabins and taps.
Last week, Paris’ mayor sent an angry letter to the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, accusing the government of “abandoning the City of Paris”.
“Chaos now sums up the capital’s camps,” she wrote, calling on the state to work with municipal authorities. “Only a simultaneous operation to take care of all of the people” would solve the problem she said.
Days earlier, Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, said that the ball was firmly in Ms Hidalgo’s court and that “the City of Paris remains the guarantor of the salubrity and cleanliness of its public spaces”.
He argued that municipal authorities should initiate legal proceedings to evict illegal immigrants, many of whom should be requesting asylum in the EU country where they were first registered under the Dublin convention.
The mayor said it was not simply a case of “evicting” the migrants. She wants the state to handle housing them while dealing with their cases to avoid yet more chaos on the streets, as it has already done “29 times” in the past three years.
“What are we waiting for? A huge fight? More deaths? That’s enough! Migrants cannot be the object of a power struggle between the state and the City of Paris,” said Pierre Henry, head of the France Terre d’Asile charity.
Ms Hidalgo is expected to run for re-election in 2020 against an as-yet-unknown rival from the Macron camp, which recently passed a tough immigration and asylum bill.
The government, Mr Henry told Le Figaro, “is banking on the situation going rotten” to weaken the embattled mayor’s hand.
The opposition Right has also waded in, with Eric Ciotti, an MP with the conservative Republicans party, saying: “The Parisian situation highlights the fact that the migration dossier is out of control. The government moves people around but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
The vicar of Paris, Benoist de Sinety, said that whoever was to blame, “nothing can ever justify this indifference and this silence”.
“No reason, whether it be a reason of State, can explain this total lack of humanity,” he said.
Besides the adult migrants, Paris is also at a loss at how to deal with a group of around 60 Moroccan unaccompanied children, some as young as 10, who have become the bane of the Goutte d’Or district in the city’s 18th arrondissement.
Social workers say they are violent, uncontrollable and many are drug addicts.