Paris: about 300 people live under the A1 highway bridge

“Every morning, the police tell us to get out”.

Barely a month after the expulsion from the Aubervilliers camp, about 300 people live in a camp set up in Saint-Denis, under the A1 highway bridge. Far from food and clothing distributions, they also suffer from police harassment.

There is anger this Friday morning in the voices and faces of the men who have been living in the camp that has been set up for a little less than a month in Saint-Denis, under the A1 highway bridge.

As every morning, the police came by at about 6 a.m. and ordered the people installed on the esplanade that stretches out in front of the tricolor letters “UEFA Euro 2016” to “get out”.

Only the tents installed on the dirt slope between the road and the esplanade are allowed to stay. The camp is contained in the most invisible and most dangerous part of this place in any point uninhabitable.

Surrounded by highways and national roads, the place has no benches to sit on, no toilets and only one water point for some 300 people. A single wooden chair has been placed in the middle of the camp, but no one seems to dare to sit on it.

Distributions further and further away

The camp has about 200 small tents, and every day new ones are added to the camp. The Utopia 56 association regularly visits the camp, which is inhabited by single men, the vast majority of whom are from Afghanistan.

At the end of the morning, there are only about fifty people in the camp. The others have left to get something to eat or to try to find a way to contact the Ofii (Office of Integration and Immigration) whose unique registration number for asylum seekers is unreachable this morning.

The further away the migrant camps are from Paris, the more difficult it is for the people living there to get to the food and clothing distributions. From the Saint-Denis camp, they have to take the metro or walk almost an hour to reach the Saint-Ouen gate where the Salvation Army has moved its breakfast distribution (rue André Bréchet) since August 24.

Food and administrative advice

Breakfasts are an opportunity to fill your stomach and drink hot drinks, but also to enjoy the small comfort provided by the tables and benches set up next to the distribution stand. Asylum seekers can also take stock of their situation with France Terre d’Asile which has installed its truck a little further away. Some members of Utopia 56 are also present to answer questions.

Gulkhan, 25, and Taher, 16, look a little lost. The two friends from Afghanistan arrived from Germany the day before and were directed to the camp in Saint-Denis by a friend of a friend. Utopia 56 explains to them that Taher has to go for an evaluation in order to assert his minority status and be taken into care by the Children’s Welfare Agency (ASE). The teenager whose face is eaten by a mask and heavy black curls falling on his forehead does not seem to believe it.

Tonight, he will probably spend another night in the Saint-Denis camp with Gulkhan like all those who, having been unable to get a tent, lie down with a simple blanket on the ground next to the tents.

They are the ones the police try to evict every morning. And sometimes, the operation is muscular. Khan, a 23-year-old Afghan boy dressed in a military-print outfit, says that a week earlier, the police used tear gas to evict these people.

Newcomers and rejected

“The hardest part is that the police come every morning and tell us to get out,” he says. “Sometimes outside people also come and attack us to pick fights and steal our phones,” he says. To try to protect themselves, the migrants in the camp now organize guard tours.

Khan has been living in the camp for about a month. Until the eviction on July 29th, he lived in the Aubervilliers camp. Having been denied asylum, he filed an appeal with the National Court of Asylum (CNDA).

The camp also counts newcomers and “Dublinés” who have failed to reach this uninhabitable corner of Saint-Denis after months, even years, criss-crossing Europe in search of international protection that no country wants to grant them.

“We must flee”

When asked why they left home, many Afghans have the same reaction: a kind of painful smile followed by a breath and a few words to say that life in their country is simply impossible. “Afghanistan is sinking, we have to flee”, sums up a man who does not wish to give his name, nor his first name.

Migrant aid associations regularly denounce the living conditions of exiles in the north of Paris and call for permanent accommodation solutions for asylum seekers and rejected asylum seekers.

“The street is a school of madness as well as indignity,” warned Pierre Henry, director general of France Terre d’Asile, in a recent interview with InfoMigrants.

“We’re waiting for the public authorities to think about a long-term solution,” said Pierre Jothy, a social worker with Utopia 56, “If the only presence of the state for them is the police, who are always pushing them further away, that’s not acceptable.”

Until now, the state’s response has in fact consisted of expelling the migrant camps and pushing the exiles – through a strong police presence in the north of Paris – to move further, to the periphery. Evictions followed one another and the camps were re-formed. Everything leads us to believe that Saint-Denis was no exception. By then, the camp will have grown.

Not far from the tents, a man sat on the wooden chair. With his legs crossed and his eyes glued to his telephone, he seems to have forgotten the din of the trucks passing below, on the national highway.

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Julia Dumont, InfoMigrants