PARIS — Here and there, the sound of zippers breaks the morning quiet, as still disheveled heads and bleary faces emerge from tents. A mirror that someone had found is placed against a tree, and people start to wash, as this makeshift camp comes to life.
It is already more crowded than the night before, with additional stretched tarpaulins, trash and laundry lines weighed down with drying garments. The pervasive stench of urine and human excrement hangs over everything.
Welcome to France's latest "Jungle" of displaced undocumented immigrants: an expansive triangle of land that extends out from the Stalingrad metro station in northeast Paris. Most of those in the camp are reluctant to say whether or not they came from Calais, the French city on the English Channel where migrants had amassed in recent years in the original "Jungle," in the hope of crossing into Britain.
Tents near Stalingrad, Paris — Photo: jmdaix via Instagram
The French government's decision last week to dismantle the camp in Calais forced most of the migrants into special Reception and Orientation centers across France, and those who refused to board buses to those centers are "afraid of being identified and arrested by police," says Ahmed, a Sudanese living under the rail overpass at Stalingrad.
One more try
Still, Azlan, a 27-year-old Afghan, readily admits that he "arrived with two friends after the 'Jungle' was evacuated." The three young men bought bus tickets in Calais for the capital, where smuggler networks are actively present unlike in the government-run centers, often located in smaller towns and villages. In the capital, Azlan and his friends will look for another attempt to reach the UK.
Paris already had its own fair share of undocumented migrants, but the situation has gotten worse over the last week in the capital, say shopkeepers and residents along the Avenue de Flandres. Paris city officials says some 2,000-2,500 migrants, mostly Sudanese, Eritreans, Afghans and Libyans, are in this encampment. Though the authorities won't confirm that anyone from Calais has come to Paris, local residents insist that there is a substantial "overflow effect."
Faisal, a Pakistani who owns a clothes shop on the Avenue de Flandres, says the situation deteriorated in the past week: "Business in the neighborhood is dead. People lock themselves up at home and don't even want to go out to buy bread," he says. "A few more weeks like this and I'll have to close down."
Migrants near Stalingrad, Paris — Photo: jmdaix via Instagram
Faisal says he has "nothing against these poor people," but "won't tolerate the attacks and thefts" he attributes to them. France is good to these people, says Faisal. "So the least they can do is respect its laws, citizens and shopkeepers," he adds.
Véronique, a longstanding resident of the neighborhood, says she's disgusted. The 63-year-old, who supports France's ruling center-left government, insists she "won't be had this time" over the immigrant issue: "We're struggling with our own misery. So why pile more onto us with this camp?"
The dismantling of the Paris camp is scheduled for this week, authorities say. The city says it is readying a humanitarian reception center with 400 beds in northern Paris, though the mayor's office has pointed out that all the space is already reserved, with no more available for migrants already at Stalingrad.