Refugees 'occupy' Paris area school for shelter
Around 300 refugees will be temporarily moved to other locations until permanent solutions are devised by government
Around 300 homeless refugees sought shelter in an empty school building in an upscale area of Paris on Sunday as their demands for accommodation went unheeded by French authorities.
A group of undocumented migrants and refugees who have been forced to live on the streets amid the peak winter season and a raging coronavirus pandemic entered the premises of the school building in the 16 arrondissement of Paris.
Police reached the site as the group, accompanied by a collective of NGOs, cleaned and settled in the classrooms of the former school with their tarpaulin sheets and tents.
Paris Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat, who is also in charge of housing, emergency accommodation and refugee protection, visited the site and agreed to temporarily accommodate them in two gymnasiums located in the 5th and 16th arrondissements. He said for security reasons, it was not possible for them to stay in the school.
“Usually this is a responsibility of the national government, but Parisian authorities will provide gymnasiums for the homeless, which have heating arrangements and are more secure, temporarily until the government finds a solution,” he said in a video clip posted on his Twitter account.
The partially destroyed nursery school building was declared dangerous and has been vacant for the last two years. It is one of 489 structures listed as free for sheltering by the State.
NGOs Utopia56, Right to housing (DAL) and Coordination of Undocumented Migrants (CSP) have made a collective request for “requisition” from the authorities. The order of October 1945 allows for administrative authority in the general interest to impose, transfer or order the requisition of vacant private property in lieu of compensation.
Brossat added that there was a proposal to construct 80 social housing units including 25 units for the homeless in place of the school building, but the work has been delayed for administrative reasons and opposition by some to housing low-income groups in the upmarket area of the 16th arrondissement.
“Hundreds of exiled people survive on the streets, constantly harassed by the police…As asylum seekers, they have a right to be accommodated...A dignified reception policy that respects fundamental rights is urgent,” Utopia56, a citizen’s initiative that works for people in exile, posted on Twitter.
Yann Manzi, founder of Utopia56, said the important thing is to protect these invisible populations and give them shelter.
“The goal is not to stay put but to obtain shelter for those on the street. We will ensure that these gymnasiums are followed by real accommodation solutions.”
In November, police forcefully dismantled a camp for refugees and migrants in the heart of Paris at the Place de la Republique, forcing hundreds on the run to seek shelter under bridges or in parks.
Similarly, in recent weeks, law enforcement agencies have intensified action in the “jungle” in Calais, northern France, a camp of undocumented migrants trying to illegally enter the UK, demolishing their tents and shelters every 48 hours.
Manzi said today’s action was to give a message to the government that no one must be left on the streets and everyone must be accommodated, especially during this period of COVID.
“It is the government’s decision to leave them in the street. All the hostels in Paris are empty. Why can’t the migrants be accommodated there?.”
A number of elected representatives who visited the school supported the actions of the migrants and the NGOs.
“They do what the state should do, especially in winter: enforce the requisition law,” tweeted Eric Coquerel, a politician of a left-wing party from Paris.
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