The slider above illustrates how a north Parisian neighborhood saw over 1,000 of their neighbors disappear in the course of a few hours. These neighbors, however, were asylum seekers and migrants, living for months on the street.
Over the past couple of years, the city has seen an influx of the number of people demanding asylum, who hail from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, and Iraq. And the number of refugees entering the country has been growing: France received 47,000 asylum applications in the first several months of 2016, a 19 percent jump from the number of asylum applications received in 2015.
Refugees who have settled in the French capital have been met over the past couple of years with an overwhelmed administration system and saturated housing shelters. While they waited months, or sometimes years, to be granted asylum, many were forced to find spaces to camp outside, seeking shelter under bridges and aerial metro lines, like the one below:
Pictured above is the infamous Stalingrad street camp of Paris, which was a notable problem for the city at this time last year. I went back to the area after having worked on a documentary about the camp to see whether people were still living underneath the metro station. One year later, the area is fenced off, making it impossible for people to access the previously open space.
By the time the camp was evacuated in May 2015, the camp had reached a population of over 1,000 migrants and refugees, although there was never a woman or child in sight. Seeing mostly male refugees is not surprising, as women and children often leave the physically stronger man to make the risky and possibly deadly journey to Europe, with the hopes of being brought along later through family unification programs. However, according to the UNCHR, the number of women and children refugees increased in 2016 as they joined their husbands and fathers in Europe, and also because women and children have a higher chance of receiving protection in EU countries.
The Stalingrad camp was eventually cleared out by police in order to relocate refugees and migrants to housing shelters. However, even after the evacuation, refugees and migrants continued to arrive to the city and regroup underneath the metro station. The dismantling of the Calais “Jungle” in October of last year also sent many refugees who were stuck on the France-U.K. border to the capital. The short documentary below gives an idea of daily life at the Stalingrad camp and shows the city’s slowness to intervene in the recurrent crisis.
As a response to the housing problem, the city opened its first-ever humanitarian camp in November. The facility, located in a working-class neighborhood in the north of Paris, accommodates newly-arrived refugees and migrants for a period of five to ten days with the goal of expediting the long administrative process that grants asylum, government benefits and housing.
So far, more than 5,000 people, mostly Afghans and Sudanese, have been welcomed to the camp after three months of operation. However, as Le Monde reports, the facility is experiencing a shortage of space: over 400 migrants are sleeping outside the camp, and just last Wednesday, 150 people were waiting in line to get in. The city can’t seem to find permanent housing fast enough to relocate refugees, prompting newly-arrived refugees to once again sleep on the Parisian streets. Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo is calling upon the Ministry of Housing to intervene, but considering the Ministry’s minimal aid to refugees who were sleeping on the streets a year ago, Hidalgo may have to seek solutions elsewhere.