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Behind the official narrative on evacuation and sheltering

The show and public communication of an evacuation is always well organized. A few journalists are warned, things take place in a calm manner, we assure that it could no longer last and that real care will be sustained. Then comes a press release taken up by the media, detailing the result of the operation, thanking "associations" that provide additional support and without whom nothing would have been possible such as Emmaus, France Terre d'Asile, sometimes The Salvation Army…They are largely subsidized by public funds for their actions and are therefore working with the institution. As far as we know, very few journalists have so far chosen to cover both the police operation in itself and what’s actually following up. It is therefore the testimonies of solidarity vounteers that matter to discover the hidden agenda of this well-oiled official narrative. Of course, it may seem anecdotal and these examples do not prevent us from believing that, nevertheless, it is better for them, and that, hopefully, the majority of them is well accompanied.

There is obviously no comparison between being in a torn tent on the ground of a motorway intersection and a camp bed in a heated gymnasium. It is obviously better to get a couple of weeks or a month to properly go through all of the asylum seeker procedure.

But :

1. The so-called "illicit" encampments, where the "worst" is used to make "sheltering" seem "better". They are in fact the result of a systematic under-estimation of suitable reception arrangements but also the consequence of a systematic sorting policy between "good" and "bad" exiles. Street encampments would not exist if the authorities truly took their responsibilities instead of acting, like they of course do, but always too late and not enough. The more than 1,600 people who survived around the Center were either waiting to enter, fearing to do so, or finding themselves in a total standoff if they were denied the right to asylum.

2. This systematic underestimation contributes to fueling the fantasy of an uncontrollable "migrants" flood, for it is always carefully avoided to emphasize that these 1,600 people did not arrive at the same time but took weeks to be so numerous. It is equally silenced that during these weeks, no subsistence is guaranteed for these people. The distributions and "shelters" occasionally proposed by the subsidized associations do not fully ensure the survival of each. Only solidarity and informal initiatives are bandaging a little the gaping wound of precariousness and misery in the City of Light. More broadly, how can we admit that, in the last two years, these open-air encampments have been formed and reformed and that the authorities have not yet found resources to provide access to basic legal information, but are more concerned to recall that these people "must not wander in Europe for ever".

3. Under the guise of humanitarian concern, contempt and violence are obvious components of these police operations as well as of the "policy for welcoming" as a whole. In order to wake people up in their tents, the well-kicking policemen jumped on the floor near the tents on Tuesday. Efficiency, speed, stupidity ... Speaking, explaining, translating take more time of course, but that is the cost of respecting human dignity. Some people who were awakened then made it clear that they did not wish to get on the buses. They were told very explicitly that if they did not go, they would be swept away. About 60 people - who wanted to get on the bus - were left in the "Bulle", even though the accommodation capacity of the Center was saturated and, as we discovered later, there was still room in other gymnasiums. The "account", which was published as the official figure afterwards, is also problematic. Looking carefully at the official figure of nearly 34,500 "sheltered" people since the summer of 2015 is common sense. It is a reflection of the Frontex accounts, which do not differentiate counting people and counting the crossings of the border, thus inflating the figures of the "mass influx" without any possibility of verification. The French authorities do not embarrass themselves with a proper follow-up that would avoid counting people two, three, four times - or having to count them all during evacuations.

Here are some examples of the fact that "sheltering" does not mean much. In some places, associations providing temporary care (15 days) are notified in advance - we were aware of this operation five days before, so you see how they had so little time to plan anything - and properly accommodate people with information, translations, explanations. Even if it is rudimentary, it often takes little more to ensure the minimum. It is simply a matter of considering the people who arrive in the place as intelligent adults and humans whose dignity must be respected. In other cases, the association would be warned at the last moment so it is an all hands-on work and mainly the goodwill of the interveners that allows a decent welcoming. Sometimes the choice of associations is astonishing as well. For instance, an association of the 95 Parisian suburbian area was commissioned. It specializes in fighting against exclusion and the recidivism of former prisoners. Because of a lack of information, many people fear that they would not be able to handle their administrative procedure at 2 hours away from Paris, and so they leave.

They are also likely to take you to a gymnasium that is not yet laid out, without any information or food for several hours and without anybody being warned in advance of your arrival. The latter is particularly politically dangerous. It is essential to warn the residents and the elected representatives, to associate them with the operation, to make mediation seems obvious. If not, the atmosphere can get hostile. In June 2016, the mayor of the 15th arrondissement of Paris came to personnally and physically block the arrival and to throw away the personnal belongings of the people who were coming out of the bus to be "sheltered" in a requisitioned gymnasium. After several hours of waiting, the "evacuees" were summoned to go to another gymnasium, less than a kilometer away, but were asked to do so by bus so as not to be too visible.

Finally, there are cases that would be a laughing matter if they were not so shocking. On the occasion of the evacuation of the first street encampment in Stalingrad (February 2016), a bus crossed France to get everyone down near the Spanish border without any solution. This group came back on foot. At the evacuation of the third camp of Stalingrad (April 2016), a small group was dumped in front of a parish 2 hours away from Paris where no one expected them. After a few hours of perplexed waiting, the group came back in search of a sidewalk. For Eole (June 2016), a bus of about thirty people was heading for a hotel, when an unexpected precision was made: there were three rooms less than previously told. WithoThe bus stopped immediately at the Austerlitz Station, a coin was flipped, and three young disheartened Afghans had to walk back to the dismantled camp where they explained the situation with the vehicles of the road still in the background. Last Tuesday, a bus made the journey (100m) between the Porte de la Chapelle and an emergency accommodation called La Boulangerie (the bakery) which is well-known for its dysfunctions. There, three Eritreans of 25-30 years old were given a paper and an explanation concerning a bus to be taken at 10:20 pm at Porte Maillot. The whole was written in French and told in Arabic. They only speak and read the Tigrinya. They came back in the evening in front of the center, they were denied entry, while all their belongings were still in. In fact, they should have gone to Porte Maillot to meet the 10:20 pm bus for a social shelter, in order to be transported to La Boulangerie. Finding themselves outside and without anything, they were finally accommodated by a commited person.

Information about Centers, Gymnasiums, etc. are never communicated by the public authorities, and we have so far only been able to "locate" just over half of the "shelters" affected by the operation last week . These "anecdotal" cases are, therefore, only those which we know of; And they are already too numerous to be only anecdotal.

The "policy for welcoming" remains a mixture of improvisation, neglect, precipitation and short-term arrangement - or even no arrangements at all - symptomatic of the deliberate will of the authorities to not really welcome. The bare minimum is supposed to be made to communicate; in order to respect the rights and people, but we are still waiting for it ...

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