France: Critical situation for refugees and migrants stuck on Paris streets as winter approaches

In July 2017 French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to ensure those awaiting asylum in France are housed. He didn’t want to see any men or women on the streets by the end of the year.

Yet as temperatures drop and winter approaches, around 1,000 refugees and migrants are still sleeping rough on the streets of Paris today say Médecins du Monde (MDM) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). They are mainly scattered across the north-east of the city and in the borough of Seine-Saint-Denis.

Refugees and migrants try to shelter where they are hidden from authorities yet also close to the reception centre for migrants (‘Centre de Premier Accueil’) at Porte de la Chapelle in Paris. Organisations providing support to migrants have established themselves at the reception centre, where migrants can start their asylum application.

The situation has become considerably more difficult for migrants in Paris since the destruction of camps in mid-August, where more than 2,700 people were living around Porte de la Chapelle. Since then, they have been constantly moved on and hassled at night by authorities. Refugees and migrants are forced to hide if they are to get sleep at night, and are often without a duvet, any kind of covers or a tent.

“The rain and the police make it unbearable here. The rain forces us to huddle under bridges and once we’ve set up shelter, the police turn up and tell us to move on”, says Ibrahim*, from Sudan. “Since I left Sudan and have been on the move, police have continually followed me. I didn’t think the treatment would be the same in France. Here we have nowhere to sleep. As soon as we sit somewhere the police arrive and tell us to move.”

“In the middle of the night the police wake us up and make us move. Each time we ask them ‘Move on, but where to? Where can we go?’ Every time they tell us ‘I don’t know, just leave’”, Ibrahim continues. “I don’t have any other option but to claim asylum here. In Sudan there is only death.”

Invisible to the local population and isolated on the streets of Paris, access to basic health care and services is becoming more difficult for refugees and migrants. Every day, in our clinics and through assessments on the streets, our medical teams see the health of migrants getting worse. This is especially true now that winter is approaching, and as they are without any chance of getting access to proper shelter and basic services.

“The temperature has dropped and migrants are still living on the streets without a housing solution”, says Corinne Torre, MSF Head of Mission in France. “They are not even allowed to wash themselves outdoors any more. Their only solution is to use public bathroom facilities but they often have to pay for these and sometimes they’re turned away. Because of the terrible conditions they face, there is a real risk of an increase in skin infections and scabies.”

The policy of making it difficult for refugees and migrants to claim asylum, constantly moving them on, sits alongside a severe lack of information available to them. This makes people who are already very fragile, often after having gone through a traumatic journey to get to Paris, even more vulnerable. The French state is trying to deny refugees and migrants their basic needs instead of creating an environment where they are welcomed with dignity and respect as people.

“This situation is absurd and I’ve known refugee camps in Africa”, says Jemal, a refugee from Ethiopia, who has been in Paris for one month. “There the UN camps can be chaotic and precarious, but at least most of the time we had a tent, something to eat, access to information and we were safe. Here the only information we get is rumours and the police persecute us as if we were criminals.”

MSF and MDM are calling for immediate and unconditional access to humane shelter for refugees and migrants, as well as the end of police harassment.

“As winter arrives, this is not the time to pay lip service to this issue. Migrants urgently need access to shelters and we need to see the opening of more reception centres soon”, says Dr Francoise Sivignon, President of Médecins du Monde in France. “It is essential that migrants are protected and get the tailored support they need. Public authorities must act as quickly as possible.”


*names have been changed