200 young migrants occupy abandoned school in Paris

The group spent their first night in the abandoned Parisian school on Tuesday evening
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

A group of unaccompanied migrant youths have taken possession of a disused school in the 16th arrondissement of Paris with the help of a left-wing charitable organization.

An estimated 150 to 200 migrant teenagers, many of whom have been sleeping rough, took their opportunity to occupy the premises late on Tuesday evening at approximately 9.30 p.m. with assistance from volunteers of the Utopia 56 charity.

The new occupants claimed they have been left with no choice but to take matters into their own hands due to the lack of services available for new arrivals; they also said they are frequently harassed by Parisian authorities when they attempt to set up temporary camps in the capital.

“The goal is to stay until we are offered a solution. We came here two years ago,” one individual told French media, who insisted that authorities should offer social assistance to the group who claim to be minors. It is unknown whether age verification checks have been conducted on them.

The migrants are also campaigning for a presumption of minority to be declared in French law, according to Le Parisien newspaper, effectively meaning that new arrivals to France who claim to be minors are treated as such and that they are offered the necessary social support reserved for children, until a judge rules otherwise.

“I hope that we will be taken care of,” said Alpha Oumar, who claims to be 16 and arrived in France in December. He criticized the authorities for asking new arrivals living on the streets to move on in a bid to prevent the shanty towns experienced in the French capital at the peak of the 2015 migrant crisis. “The police forbid us to stay, we have to change corners,” he said. “When I arrived in France, I did not expect that.”

The Utopia 56 organization revealed on social media the police were called to the disused school on Tuesday evening but soon left, allowing the group to sleep the night on the premises.

“The first night went well, away from the violence and loneliness of the street,” the group tweeted, calling for authorities to find a more permanent solution.

“Despite our repeated requests, the prefecture of Ile-de-France as well as the Secretary of State for Child Protection, Charlotte Caubel, continually refuse to establish a consultation process with those on the ground in order to put in place lasting and constructive solutions,” the group added in a press release.

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The number of migrants sleeping rough in the French capital has grown steadily in recent years as Europe experiences another migratory wave.

In a government circular acquired by Le Monde newspaper this week, authorities are trying to find new solutions to tackle the growing problem as Paris attempts to clean up its image ahead of hosting two major sporting events next year, namely the Rugby World Cup and next summer’s Olympics.

One initiative being proposed by the French interior ministry is to incentivize migrants to relocate from the capital to rural communities with the promise of accommodation. The scheme, which will initially see up to 500 homeless migrants in Paris redistributed to 10 rural locations, will apply to all, including those who have been ordered to leave France, with the promise that those subject to a deportation order will have their cases re-examined.

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