Thank you everyone for checking in. I haven’t been blogging much recently because I’ve been working on a series of interviews for another publication and getting ready for the holidays. My first interview will be up this week. Looking forward to sharing with you.
Meanwhile, I need to update non-Parisians on the refugee story I started last summer. An NGO called France Terre d’Asile opened not far away from where I live and thousands of migrants gathered in the streets of our neighborhood, “camping” on the sidewalks at busy intersections and under the Metro, so they could stand in line and apply for asylum status in France. Friends who distributed food and water said there were two main groups, one from Afghanistan and one from Eritrea (not Syria as we all thought at first). They were mainly young men, a few women and children. It was heart-rending to see tiny baby clothes drying on makeshift clothes lines in the sweltering city heat.
Starting in late July, the city and the regional government sent air conditioned buses, social workers, and police to evacuate the camps. We didn’t know where people were being taken but they seemed to be treated with respect the first time (I was a bystander). Word had it there were residences made available out of town, but the migrants didn’t want to be there, they wanted to be here. As they kept coming back, I saw fewer and fewer social workers and more police checking ID’s and loading the refugees onto buses about once a month. It got tense. Honestly I felt terrible for both “sides.” The city set up portapotties and faucets where they could, but the public health issues were off the charts. A journalist friend told me there had been a cholera outbreak in a nearby area, refuse and human waste were all over the sidewalks here.
One day I struck up a conversation with a sanitation worker over on the canal and he said he and his crew were understaffed and overwhelmed by the job, he was a life-long liberal voter but if he lived in America would vote for Trump. It made my blood run cold because we have presidential elections coming here in the Spring. On another walk, I watched a crew hosing down an area near Metro Stalingrad. I was 50 feet away and the odor was so strong I had to back way way off, so I can’t imagine what it was like for anyone involved. There were heart-warming moments: almost very afternoon young volunteers with a paperboard organized French classes for groups of refugees sitting on a grassy incline near the Rotonde. (see my previous posts)
Among my friends, opinion was divided. A photographer friend distributed food and documented the monthly evacuations, criticizing the police for not folding up the migrants’ tents and being rough. Others couldn’t bear watching the refugees sleeping on cold ground night after night and thought any place in France would be better than a slab of concrete amid Parisian diesel fumes.
Finally about two weeks ago, the city not only evacuated the two groups, but put up barriers and posted small police vans to keep migrants from setting up camp again. Articles in the press showed brand new placement centers being opened in the 18th arrondissement and south suburbs. (I have to check on the local NGO, not sure if it’s still in the same place or not…)
So, as the holidays begin, all our streets and shops are festively decorated once again like a picture postcard.
In all sincerity, I have to say it’s a relief not to see hundreds of tents every time I go out and (as a woman) the bands of young guys from Afghanistan wandering around made me nervous. When I dared say this to a male friend from another quartier he joked that I probably wouldn’t have minded thousands of young girls from Sweden camping here… Sorry, I know my politically incorrect paranoia is showing…
It’s unbearable seeing refugees on the news but having them on our street corner brought the wars home…Over the years, we’ve been collecting supplies for the new arrivals, but the numbers keep growing. A human rights lawyer friend said 70 per day in Paris alone…
I hope to interview a young French actress who has a very creative humanitarian project with people from the former “Jungle” camp in Calais, and other activists…
Sending love and light to all… xxxxx Aliss