How many people lived in Paris’ largest refugee camp, tucked away under the Jaurès and Stalingrad metro stations? The numbers are still not clear. According to some sources, there were between 2,500 and 3,500. It is safe to say that around 3,000 people were sleeping in the heart of the French capital, creating a boulevard of tents between the Canal Saint-Martin and two major avenues. The tents were either bought or donated by volunteers and generous neighbours.
Every day, millions of drivers pass through this area. Every day, passersby would cross the street to avoid the smell of urine. At night, partygoers across the canal would marvel, shocked, at the sight of this camp.
All that is left as evidence of this area’s previous dwellers are plastic dishes and the roofs of broken tents. The French authorities began to dismantle the camp at 6am on 4 November. By noon, the last bus of refugees left Stalingrad station.
Video subtitled in English.
Where are they going? Even now, there are conflicting answers. Policemen monitoring the evacuation told cafébabel that these refugees would be brought to various shelters around Île-de-France.
"In a few days, they will be back," said Youssef, a Syrian refugee. He has either been sleeping at the camp or with friends. As soon as he heard about the evacuation that would take place this morning, he hurried to try and catch the bus, but the police didn’t let him pass. With a photographer and activist at his side, he told cafébabel he is convinced that refugees are being redirected to administrative centres to process their asylum requests. Both he and the photographer assume that only women and children have the luxury of being placed in shelters. "Anyways, they have to come back to Paris to finalise their demand for asylum," Youssef explained.
"And now they are destroying the tents... what a waste!" exclaimed the photographer. She is also convinced that volunteers and refugees will have to repurchase their tents, and is irritated by the fact that the authorities wouldn’t allow refugees to take them in the buses.
This is the sixth time the Stalingrad camp has been torn down this year alone. It was announced to be evacuated only a week after the Calais Jungle. Only this time, the camp was larger than ever.