Remains of migrant life strewn across the Stalingrad camp

The ‘Paris Jungle’ was home to nearly 4,000 people who have now been evacuated

Migrants stand with their belongings near policemen during an evacuation of a makeshift camp near Stalingrad metro station in Paris on Friday. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Migrants stand with their belongings near policemen during an evacuation of a makeshift camp near Stalingrad metro station in Paris on Friday. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

 

French authorities on Friday removed nearly 4,000 migrants from the camp in northeastern Paris known as Stalingrad.

Since a similar camp was evacuated in Calais during the last week of October, the French had begun referring to the tents on the quai de Jemmapes, beneath the overhead metro line and especially on the wide, median strip of the avenue de Flandres, as the “Paris Jungle”.

Police have raided Stalingrad, named after the nearest metro station, some 30 times in the past 18 months. Friday’s evacuation mobilised 600 riot police and was less violent and better organised than earlier round-ups.

The Stalingrad and Jaurès metro stations were closed for the duration of the 6am to 12.30pm operation. As one approached from the Porte de la Chapelle, mechanical shovels and African sanitation workers wearing jumpsuits, plastic gloves and surgical masks could be seen moving in to clean the abandoned camp.

The detritus of refugee life – mattresses and sofas, tents, shoes and clothing, plastic dishes, banana and orange peels, a bucket full of cooked rice – was strewn across the central reservation.

Some 150 African women and children queued to board dark red coaches, behind a police line.

“We’re in the process of sheltering them,” said Dominique Versini, a deputy to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. “Mise à l’abri” (sheltering) has become the government byword for all dealings with migrants, usually qualified with the adjective “humanitarian.”

“People arrived over night,” Versini said. “Especially from [the Franco-Italian border at] Ventimille. They want to go to the centres because it means a chance to have your application for asylum considered quickly.”

But France has one of the lowest asylum acceptance rates in Europe, I observe, scarcely a third. “No. It’s higher,” Versini protests. “Up to 60 or 70 per cent for Afghans.” Her voice wavers. She is uncertain.

Sinister connotation

Some 800 Afghans had been removed before dawn. An aid worker tells me they are being held in a stadium at Maurepas – a sinister historical connotation. But when I telephone the town hall at Maurepas, I am told the Afghans are being housed in the community centre, not the stadium.

To circumvent the police line, I make my way through back streets, where I find Nasr Bottarah (30), from Khartoum in Sudan, sitting on a ledge, gnawing a piece of stale bread. He wears the migrant uniform of runners, jeans and an anorak, and a wool scarf wrapped around his head to guard against the cold. Like most of the migrants, he is emaciated.

“I want my country back,” Bottarah repeats forlornly. “I don’t want to live like this. I want to go back to Sudan.”

I join a crowd of several hundred, among the 3,852 evacuated, packed like sardines alongside the coaches. Ahmad Mohamed Ali (26), from Darfur, tells me he spent one month in Stalingrad, and before that six months in Calais.

“I want to go to England. I speak English, not French,” Ahmad Mohamed Ali says. “My brother is in Liverpool. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I want to leave Paris because it’s cold and raining. I was sleeping in the tent when the police woke me up this morning. This is a good day, because I am leaving.”

The population of Stalingrad had tripled since the demolition of the Calais camp was announced, but in more than a dozen interviews with departing migrants, I find only one who has come from Calais.

“It’s best to stay in France,” says Hossein (40), from Eritrea. “But the process is too slow. I asked for asylum seven months ago and nothing has happened. I don’t know where we are going. Maybe to the Amazon rain forest.”

Hossein’s friends laugh. “He means it is destination unknown,” says Osman, aged 31. “We had nothing to eat or drink today. The French think we are angels who do not need food or water.”

The Eritreans laugh again. Osman holds a tiny bundle of belongings. Hossein owns nothing. The good humour of these cold, wet and destitute men is startling.

Bark at the crowd

Riot police dressed like robo-cops bark at the crowd to sit down, stand up, sit down, don’t push. The men obey. Orders are translated by Fathy (39), an Algerian volunteer. She smokes cigarettes, wears a black leather jacket and a badge that says “Peace for Palestine”.

Fathy has not slept for two days, and she launches into an angry monologue against prime minister Manuel Valls and the organisation Crif, which advocates for Jewish communities in France. “I cried in front of my refugees today,” she says. “I saw a cop hit one on the head . . . If we hadn’t brought them medicine, there would have been an epidemic.

“All of them are coughing. Life is after death, not here. They’re not migrants. Migrants are birds and animals. When a Frenchman goes abroad, he’s an ‘expatriate’. When it’s a black or an Arab, he’s a ‘migrant’. Europeans destroyed their countries. They come here and they’re treated like cattle.”

Fathy’s fellow volunteer, Catherine (63), is gentler. “I’ve seen other evacuations that were harder. I even met nice CRS [riot police] today. They told me they’d had a lot of practice in Calais.”

Suddenly, it’s the men’s turn to walk the narrow aisle flanked by police, to mount the coach steps. “Goodbye. Good luck,” the women say with a hasty handshake.

As I head back to the Porte de la Chapelle, I hear voices in an abandoned tent. They are David (48) and Marie (59), a homeless French couple who had settled among the migrants. “We’ll find a spot. We don’t know where,” David says.

A two-page story in Le Monde this week describes the rise of “pauvrophobie” – rejection of the poor – encompassing migrants, welfare recipients and the homeless.

More than 92,000 homeless are given beds each night in the Paris region, while 200 people are living rough in the Bois de Vincennes, east of Paris. There have been at least four arson attacks against centres for migrants or the homeless in two months.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.