Paris opens migrant centre after clearing street camp

Paris opened its first reception centre for migrants and refugees in Thursday, a month later than expected. Temporary shelter and basic services will be provided.

The Paris refugees' camp on Thursday
The Paris refugees' camp on Thursday RFI/Claire Rush

The "humanitarian centre" is in a disused railway yard on a busy boulevard in northern Paris. It can lodge up to 400 people and take in 50-80 new arrivals each day.

The yellow and white inflatable reception hall stands in stark contrast to the concrete, industrial zone that surrounds it.

Behind the reception hall, a 10,000-square-metre hangar contains dormitories, bathrooms, a canteen and a games area.

Only men can stay in this centre; another for women and families is to open in January, while unaccompanied minors will be sent to existing children's shelters in Paris.

Charities work with government

The charity Emmaüs Solidarité is in charge of the centre, where it employs 120 staff members. Its general director, Bruno Morel, said that the "objective is to provide an alternative solution to makeshift camps".

"Starting today, migrants just arriving in Paris will have a place to rest and begin their asylum application," he told RFI. "We provide lodging, meals and health services, particularly mental health as migrants have often been traumatised during their journey."

In addition to Emmaüs Solidarité, Doctors of the World (Médecins du monde) will offer medical services, while the organisation Utopia56 will provide donated clothes and hygiene kits.

Immigration officials and social workers will also be present.

How it works

Migrants will be able to stay at the centre for five to 10 days. Officials stress it is temporary lodging.

They say that the temporary nature of the centre will allow every migrant arriving here to receive assistance, information, lodging and basic services before being transferred elsewhere in the region or the country.

Once 10 days are up, there are four different possible outcomes for migrants.

"Those who have already begun their asylum application will be transferred to a special centre dedicated to asylum seekers," explained regional official Sophie Brocas. "For migrants just arriving in Paris who want to request asylum, we will assist them and subsequently transfer them to a temporary reception centre in the region."

There are 79 such centres in the region and 164 throughout the country, according to Brocas.

Not all migrants will be able to stay in France however.

"Migrants who have already applied for asylum in another European country will be sent back to that country," said Brocas.

Under the Dublin Agreement, the first European country a migrant applies for asylum in is responsible for either accepting or rejecting the application. Migrants cannot apply for asylum in several EU countries.

Lastly, there is deportation. "Migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected in France will be sent back to their home country," said Brocas.

In the case of deportation, the French government provides migrants with financial and travel assistance, she added.

Migrants and locals happy

"I'm here to get information, but mostly to have a roof over my head," said Alpha Galo, a Guinean migrant waiting in line at the centre on opening day.

"I'm delighted to be here," he added. After sleeping rough in a makeshift camp in Paris's Stalingrad neighbourhood, which was evacuated and bulldozed to the ground last week, he welcomed the idea of a bed.

Parisian Mustapha, an engineer passing by the centre, welcomed the opening.

"This way you bring dignity to people living in the streets. I think it's great."

Migrant crisis in Paris

The humanitarian centre is Paris officials' response to the makeshift camps that have sprung up throughout the city over the past year.

Just last week nearly 3,000 migrants were evacuated from a camp near the Stalingrad metro station, where tents and mattresses filled meridians, sidewalks and the spaces under the overhead metro line.

Indeed, since July 2015, more than 30 camps have been evacuated in Paris.

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