Paris: Dramatic growth of informal migrant camp at Aubervilliers

In just one month, the number of migrants living in the Aubervilliers camp in the Paris region has more than doubled, from 400 in mid-June to around 1,000 in mid-July. While arrivals are expected to continue over the next few weeks, NGOs denounce the failure of the French reception system.

In the Aubervilliers camp, the number of migrants has more than doubled in just one month. In mid-June, aid groups estimated that there were around 400 people living under the Stains bridge along the Saint-Denis canal in the north of Paris. In mid-July, France Land of Asylum (FTDA) said it counted some 1,000 migrants in the camp.

“And by August, there will be at least 1,500 of them,” predicted FTDA Director General Pierre Henry. “It’s always the same thing, we’ve been going in circles for years,” he said.

“It’s the same hellish cycle that’s been going on for too long,” added Paul Alauzy of Doctors of the World (MdM).

According to Julie Lavayssière, coordinator of the NGO Utopia 56 in Paris, “the camp has grown steadily since it was set up in mid-May. Until then, migrants who set up their tents under the Stains bridge were systematically dislodged by police.

“Some of them then took refuge under the Landy bridge, a few meters away, where several Afghans were already present. Then, when the number of people increased, they all came back under the Stains bridge,” Lavayssière said.

More and more refugees

What explains the increase from 400 to 1,000 migrants in the Aubervilliers camp in such a short period of time? There are many reasons, according to NGOs.

First of all, there is a significant number of newcomers: mainly Afghans arriving from Greece, but also Sudanese and Somalis coming directly from Italy.

The telephone service of the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii), which issues appointments for asylum seekers in the Paris region, is operating at reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic — services of the Paris and Ile-de-France prefectures are at only 25% of their pre-crisis capacity. As a result, many people are unable to register and have been waiting for weeks, even months, on the street for an appointment.

The associations also note an increase in the number of recognized refugees in the camps, estimating that they represent about 20% of the inhabitants of the Aubervilliers encampment. “Many lost their jobs during lockdown and thus found themselves without housing because they couldn’t pay their rent,” Lavayssière said.

The camp also has many migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected and are awaiting appeal, and those who have received a deportation order due to the Dublin regulation.

“As long as we have people wandering around Europe under the Dublin Regulation, we won’t solve the problem of people on the streets, many of whom are at this legal impasse,” said Henry, who has been campaigning for reform of the Dublin Regulation for years.

‘Mass failure’

Henry believes that the reformation and expansion of the camps is due to a “mass failure”. “We have to rethink the whole French reception system and make it worthy. The National Reception System (DNA) is insufficient,” he said.

Hundreds of migrants are living in very precarious conditions on the streets of the Ile-de-France region. “We notice many people in great psychological distress, often linked to their living conditions in France,” said Paul Alauzy of MdM. Precariousness also causes tension between migrants, he explained. MdM’s teams treat many injuries that occur after fights or attacks.

Two weeks ago (July 10), a Sudanese migrant even lost his life when he drowned in the Saint-Denis canal. The cause of his fall is as yet unknown.

Henry said that migrants were already living in urine and filth on the Boulevard de la Villette four years ago. “They have been pushed back a few kilometers outside Paris, towards the working class neighbourhoods,” he noted.

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Leslie Carretero, InfoMigrants