Harsh winter adds to woes of migrants in limbo in Paris
06 January 2018

Harsh winter adds to woes of migrants in limbo in Paris

PARIS It’s near freezing and the little tents along the Parisian canal are the only shelters for hundreds of migrants from war-torn, violence-wracked countries. Running away from wars, misery and turmoil, they have somehow ended up in the French capital after a long and painful journey, and yet there is no respite for them even in one of the wealthiest places in Europe. The New Year began for them without food, home or money. Anadolu Agency found a group of young migrants trying to warm themselves up around a fire outside as they made an effort to survive the night. In the morning, they said, they planned to rush to charity centers where they could get some coffee, bread and fruits after waiting in long queues. Zahir said it had been seven months since he arrived in Paris -- a place that lacks humanity, according to him. “I am here in France for the last seven months and I have been sleeping outside for the last seven months; all these people are migrants and they sleep outside. “They used to say that there is humanity in Europe. I had heard that in countries like Germany, France, there is too much love for humanity but what I saw in here is that there is no humanity or love for humanity. “They mistreat the migrants, we are being verbally harassed, and nobody cares,” he said. Another migrant Abad, who is a Pakistani, also had the same lament. “We have never experienced such humiliation anywhere in Europe than what we have gone through in Paris,” he said. Migrants, who can be seen sleeping out in the open on the streets of Paris, are mainly coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and African and Middle-Eastern countries. Many of them have set their tents on the banks of Canal St. Martin and Porte de la Chapelle neighborhood, which are next to an asylum application center. Lack of shelters Hundreds of asylum seekers are waiting for the government office to give them an appointment. After the asylum comes the weeks to a months-long waiting period. That means they will be on the streets until at least the date of their appointment. Sahir from Tunisia said some people died out in the cold while they waited to be heard. “Four-five people died of the cold. Yes, they died because of the cold. It is ordinary, nobody asks anything about them…” One of the main hardships migrants face is lack of shelters and housing. Numbers have risen substantially after the demolition of the Calais refugee camp. According to official figures, 5,596 people were evacuated from Calais out of an estimated 7,000. In June, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 40 percent of asylum seekers and refugees do not have access to housing, and the current 80,000 homes and shelters would be increased by 12,500 in 2018 and 2019. In 2016 alone, France received 85,000 asylum requests. Unaccompanied minors, women, and families get priority in being redirected to government-sponsored housing. Single men can get temporary refuge for up to 10 days. In June, President Emmanuel Macron told Council of Europe: "We have to welcome refugees, it's our duty and our honor." Living in fear However, what migrants say about their experiences in France is exactly opposite to the president’s message. As Muhammed from Libya recalled the horrible things he saw back home, the human trafficking, orphan kids and how he almost got killed, he gets very resentful about the inhospitality he experienced in France. “People should know about the conditions we are in. We don’t even have a bathroom to go to. “I have an appointment [to government-run application center] how can I go? There is no one to help you.” People on the streets are very anxious, and on top of it, they fear that at any minute police could arrive and demolish their mini tent cities. In the last decade, French police have removed such tents on numerous occasions. “Paris is very cold and I don’t have a house. Every time police come, he [police officer] says go to another side; after I go to another side, police come again and say go to another side. “All day I go from one side to another…our place gets changed all time,” Gul, a 19-year-old teenager from Afghanistan, said. The weather gets colder towards the evening and it gets harder for him to stand still. It has been more than a year now since he ran away. His parents are dead, he said. He only has a brother back in his hometown, but he has not been in touch with him for almost a year. He shows his tent to the camera and tells that five people live in the tiny space. Akbal is also an Afghan but not an undocumented migrant anymore. He lives in Paris and offers help to migrants as much as he can. After distributing the food to them, he asks: “They are running away from war, from misery. If this was not the case would any of them come here?”