A refugee camp in Paris? Impossible you think. A blight on this "City of Light", a blight that has been "evacuated" over and over again as the Administration continues a policy of inaction. In today's "Voices from the Field" story, visual artist and Prosper volunteer Danika Jurisic reports, "A refugee crisis, in its full form, is reaching Paris."
On Tuesday May 31, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo made international headlines by announcing plans for a new "humanitarian" refugee camp to be built in the North of Paris. The following day, volunteers reported inhumane conditions for over 1200 people at a refugee camp at Eole Garden in between the 18th and 19th Arrondisements. Within hours of the announcement, the City cut off the water supply to the camp, worsening already unhygienic conditions. Approximately 2,000 displaced peoples were evacuated on June 2nd.
In the two weeks following the evacuation of at Eole Gardens, smaller camps have popped up throughout the city. One of these, under the metro bridge at La Chapelle already consists of over sixty tents. Another group is camping in front of the center of association "France Terre d'Asile", hoping to speed up the processing of their asylum applications. More families with young children are present on the streets. Danika writes, "Last Sunday, we were delivering emergency blankets and some food for the forty-and-something refugees on the street. Among them were about a dozen of women, some pregnant. They were all sleeping on piled carton boxes." She is particularly concerned about the vulnerable position of refugees on the streets to existing criminal groups.
Another volunteer from the Collectif Parisien en Soutien aux Exiles explains the current policy of the Parisian government.
"People who seek asylum in Paris and the surrounding region have no care from the State nor the Parisian Government and are forced to sleep in the streets for anywhere from weeks to months in inhumane conditions. Their sole support is informal volunteer collectives. The policy of the Parisian Government essentially involves waiting until a significant number of people gather in an informal camp. At that point, the City collaborates with the Prefecture (the State) to evacuate the camp and distribute the inhabitants to centres throughout France."
Despite the promises from City Hall, volunteers report a lack of progress in the treatment and accommodation of the refugees. Danika explained, "Just this evening, I found a family of five on the street in front of France Terre D'Asile. This Afghan family with a baby spent hours waiting in line in front of several charities only to end up on the street, with nothing but one cover and several bottles of water. The eldest son, only fourteen years old is the only one who speaks English. Fortunately, we did manage to find the accommodation for them - for the one night But their suffering is just one story among many others."
Whether the new camp promised by Mayor Hidalgo will improve the situation remains to be seen. In the meantime, the crisis is acute with volunteers from throughout Europe sending hygiene kits, sleeping bags, and tents to provide aid. Aid to the refugee camps -- in the green gardens of Paris.
This article was originally posted on the Prosper blog where we are featuring a series on volunteers in the refugee crisis.