7 Things You Need to Know About the Paris Refugee Crisis

The effects of the world’s current refugee crisis can be felt everywhere in Paris. On the banks of the Saint Dennis canal near the far side of the 19th arrondissement lies a massive collection of makeshift tents, huddled together against the cold and the wind. Throughout the richer areas of Paris, charity organizations and housing programs are being created in order to curb the mass homelessness. Politicians and political groups squabble over the best possible solution while police dismantle the camps, sending the migrants in search of new ground to throw their tents. Meanwhile, there are an estimated eighty men, women and children entering Paris everyday.

Background information about the current refugee crisis

Syrian and Iraq refugees get on a boat near Greece – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The “European refugee crisis” is a term describing the current migration of people, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, into European countries.

For as long as the world has been afflicted by war, violence and poverty, refugees, fleeing these terrors, have made their way to safer countries, seeking a better life.

Due to decades of war, Western imperialism, exploitation, political coups, foreign intervention, rising extremism, drought and human-related climate change, impoverished people are making their way in droves across the Mediterranean sea in search of safety.

Selling their homes and leaving all that they have ever known behind, men, women and children purchase human-smuggling tickets that promise to guide them to Europe.

One in eighteen migrants die or go missing in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean sea. Those who survive embark on the grueling process of seeking asylum and creating a new life.

Refugees in France and Paris

Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

In 2017 there were over 100,000 people who requested asylum in France. After Germany, France is the second most sought after country for refugees. Many migrants come from French colonized countries and have the advantage of being able to speak French.

The majority of refugees come to France illegally, hitching rides on trucks or trains from Italy. Once inside, they either head to Paris, where they await the approval of their asylum status, or they move to the northern France, where they try to make their way to England.

The outskirts of Paris is flogged with tents and shantytowns. Migrants live in squalor with limited access to clean water and food. Police closely monitor these camps and often dismantle them, forcing migrants to move away.

Government and police response to the crisis

Riot police are used to dismantle migrant camps – Photo by Harrison Moore on Unsplash

Macron, the current president of France, promised early on in his campaign to make France a home for refugees fleeing violence and to get migrants safely off the streets by 2017. It is now 2019 and there seems to be no end in sight.

Police are given orders not to let migrants settle anywhere for too long. This has led to violence from authorities trying to remove the camps. It has been reported that tents have been broken and sleeping bags slashed or stolen. Blankets are sprayed with tear gas, and water cannons are used on the already cold migrants.

Authorities have been accused of trying to “hide” the problem with their elimination of the camps. There are still just as many refugees living on the streets, but due to the violence caused by police, conditions are growing worse.

In 2018, Macron proposed a new immigration law that would crack down on illegal immigration and limit the amount of migrants entering France. Among other things, the law criminalizes illegal immigration and makes it easier to expel migrants who do not fit the criteria for asylum.

There was outrage from activist groups and humanitarian charities who claim that the bill clashes with France’s tradition of granting asylum and strips helpless people of their rights.

The law, which also allows for migrants to be detained for 90 days (twice as long as before), was signed by parliament in August of 2018.

Seeking asylum

Women and children wait outside of train station in 2015 – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The process for seeking asylum is long and grueling. Only 36% of all applicants are granted asylum. France breaks down refugees into two categories: the first are those who flee from violence, and the second (economic refugees) are those who seek economic gain.

France, in accordance with the EU, has promised to grant asylum to any refugee who can prove that their situation is life threatening, such as being the target of political violence or severe oppression in their home country.

However, if the authorities decide that a migrant has come to France under the pretenses of “making more money” they are refused asylum and deported.

Aid given to refugees

Many different organizations around Paris offer their services to refugees in need – Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

As the migrant crisis has continued, charities and humanitarian programs have increasingly grown in size and popularity. Housing facilities are popping up all over Paris, dedicated to creating a home for migrants.

Cultural centers such as Les Cinq Toits on Boulevard Exelmans in the 16th arrondissement host nearly 300 migrants seeking asylum. Programs are put in place to integrate migrants into the local culture.

There  are French classes, art programs, sport teams and festivals provided to the migrants by employees and volunteers.

The government offers 200 hundred dollars a month to registered migrants seeking asylum. Charities provide food and coffee to migrants sleeping on the streets, as well as help navigating paperwork and the French bureaucracy.

The public’s response to refugees

Belgian refugees in World War I – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whenever the world is faced with a humanitarian crisis, there are those who stand in solidarity and those who use their voices, fed by nationalist beliefs, to insight hate and fear. The French are no different.

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency in 2017, running a campaign that ultimately appealed to humanitarianism and an open France. He ran against “Marine” Le Pen, the leader of the National Front.

Le Pen trafficked her policies in bigotry, fear of the “other,” and strong nationalism. While she lost the election to Macron, there is still a large population in support of her party and her beliefs.

France is not the only place where nationalism is on the rise. As the effects of the migrant crisis worsen, countries all over Europe are seeing a surge in anti-immigration policy and belief.

It is important to remember that these refugees did not choose to be refugees. It was not their choice to be born in country destroyed by war. Thanks to years of Western exploitation and European colonization, these people, regardless of their religion or spiritual beliefs, are leaving their homeland in search of a better life.

The current refugee crisis is affecting Muslim-majority countries, but it has not always been so and it will not always be so.

During the rise of the Nazis, Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution and violence, sought refuge in safe countries such as the United States. The United States decided they could not burden themselves with the plight of the Jewish refugees and sent them back to Europe where many of them were killed.

As always, history will prove who is in the right. Migrants, regardless of their economic background, skin color or religion are, above all, human beings. We must treat them that way.

What can be done to help

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

There are many things that can be done to help with the refugee crisis if you feel inclined to do so.

Many spaces (such as Les Cinq Toits) are in constant need of volunteers to teach French or English classes and help out with organization. Charities that give food are also happy to have anyone who supports their cause.

It is important to help the refugees by providing assistance and service, but even more than being “refugees who need help” they are also people. I believe that creating human bonds can be even more important than giving money.

Many of the cultural centers that house these men and women also create events where locals and migrants can come together. I would urge people to take part in these events. Volunteering is great, but reaching out as one human being to another, deconstructing our perceived differences, lending an ear to someones voice and sharing our humanity over tea or coffee can be all the more powerful.

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