Paris City Hall plaza draws holiday visitors and migrant families seeking shelter as Olympics nears

Paris City Hall plaza draws holiday visitors and migrant families seeking shelter as Olympics nears

PARIS (AP) — The forecourt of Paris City Hall buzzes with activity this holiday season: Children spinning on a sparkling carousel, shoppers browsing a Christmas market, tourists posing in front of huge signs advertising the 2024 Olympics — and dozens of migrant families searching for a roof over their heads.

About 50 families with children between three months and 10 years old gathered on City Hall plaza on Christmas evening, to meet members of aid groups who distribute food, blankets and diapers and help find temporary lodging. A similar scene plays out most nights beneath the ornate facade of the Paris monument.

Some sat on pieces of cardboard with their suitcases. A toddler who arrived in socks was given shoes, and an older child was given a gift in shiny wrapping.

Many of the families are from French-speaking African countries, including Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Aicha, 20, is among those seeking shelter. She arrived in Paris from Mali in 2020 and gave birth to a baby boy, Ismael, last year.

“We sleep here outside or in the metro, but it’s not safe because there are thugs. It’s complicated, we have to negotiate, we have no solution. But it’s not just me, there are lots of families who sleep outside,” she told The Associated Press. She spoke on condition her full name not be published because she doesn’t have residency papers.

Zoe Lafargoutte, a member of migrant aid group Utopia 56, said they find space for about 20-40% of those in need every evening.

‘’We try to distribute tents and blankets so that they can sleep, even if it’s not ideal, or we direct them to hospitals, to places where they can spend the night in a bit of warmth,’’ she said.

Aid workers are concerned that Paris authorities will clear out migrants and others sleeping in the rough before next year’s Olympics without providing longer-term housing options. Olympics organizers say they are working with aid groups to find solutions for those in the streets, including the many people who come from around the world to Paris seeking refuge or employment.

Utopia 56 member Perine Rident says the Olympic Games can also draw attention to the broader problem.

“If you want to take the silver lining, is at least people are talking about it,” Rident said.


Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

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