Migrants flooding the streets of Paris

As many as 100 migrants arrive in Paris a day, with most of them making their enclaves set up along the city’s streets.
Dmitry Kostyukov/New York Times
As many as 100 migrants arrive in Paris a day, with most of them making their enclaves set up along the city’s streets.

PARIS — The migrant crisis in France has shifted from the “Jungle” of Calais to the streets of Paris, with hundreds camped out in tents in the city’s northern neighborhoods and dozens more arriving each day.

The wildcat encampments have thrust the European migrant issue in the face of Parisians and once again underscored the French government’s inability to resolve a problem it hoped Italy and Germany would forestall.

The numbers have been far greater in those countries, but migrants — largely Africans and Afghans — nonetheless keep trickling into Paris. As many as 100 migrants are arriving a day, according to aid groups. Most have vague hopes of reaching Britain or getting asylum in France.


Stretching far up the Avenue de Flandre in the city’s working-class 19th Arrondissement and bunched under nearby subway overpasses at the Jaurès and Stalingrad Métro stations, the enclaves of pup tents are islands of misery in the midst of first-world prosperity.

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As many as 3,000 are camped here, according to aid groups. Since the spring of 2015, more than 18,000 in Paris have been sheltered — meaning they were bused to reception centers elsewhere in France and, in some cases, expelled from Paris sidewalks, according to the city and the French news media.

In a pattern that has not varied for months, the migrants establish themselves on the sidewalks of Paris, their numbers gradually swell over a period of weeks, and then the police come to clear them out.

This week has seen another replay of that. The authorities vowed to clear out the latest encampments by the end of the week, as the city of Paris feuds with the French government over who is responsible for the migrants.

Parisians try to bustle about their business — buying bread at the bakeries and other provisions in the neighborhood’s small stores, lingering at cafes, even strolling up the avenue’s median between the tents — against a backdrop of forlorn Sudanese, Eritrean, and Afghan men looking bewildered, eating, talking, and living on the sidewalks.


At the Stalingrad Métro station, where African migrants are clustered in the shadow of the elegant, late-18th-century Rotonde de La Villette, one of the capital’s architectural landmarks, residents hurry by as they hold their noses against the reek of urine.

There are far fewer portable or public toilets than there were at the Calais encampment known as the Jungle, and they are rarely cleaned by the city. The aid groups that substituted for government help there are not much in evidence in Paris.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo wrote to the national government last week of the migrants’ “desperate humanitarian and sanitary situation,” urging it to do something. Soon she intends to open a temporary shelter in the 18th Arrondissement. Aid groups say the 400 spaces available there are far below what is needed.

An older Frenchman out for his afternoon stroll picked his way through the tents and the small drifts of trash on the Avenue de Flandre this week. “This is disgusting,” said Robert Aversunq, 87, looking at the tents. He described himself as a “retired bureaucrat” and a military veteran.

“And the government isn’t doing a thing about it,” he said. “These people came down from Calais,” he insisted, saying the encampment here had sprung up only in the last week.


Aid groups, too, say that some of the 6,000 or so migrants cleared out of Calais in the last 10 days have simply landed in Paris, though the government denies it.

Inside some of the tiny tents, barely big enough for one person, there are small children; outside, young men sit, bored and listless, waiting for periodic visits by law enforcement.

The groups said that about 60 Afghans were taken away on Monday. Those without papers are often hauled off to the police station, and some will be expelled from the country, according to the aid groups.

One Afghan still on the street, Abdul Adrim Ze, 26, from Logar province in eastern Afghanistan, had learned enough French in three months in Paris to refer to his unwilling adoptive homeland as “the land of human rights,” just as the French do.