PARIS (Reuters) - With hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers packed in tents alongside a Paris canal and under a nearby bridge, charities are warning of the risk from drowning and violence if the authorities do not act to tackle makeshift camps.
Two young men - one Afghan and one probably Sudanese - drowned in the canal this month from the camps housing more than 2,400 people by the Canal St Martin, a trendy area known for hipsters having picnics along its banks on sunny days.
France, which has received far fewer asylum seekers over the past years than neighboring Germany, has nevertheless been struggling with tackling new arrivals - for years in what became know as the Calais “jungle”, on the northern coast, and, since that was shut down, increasingly in Paris.
“If this situation continues, there will be other dramas, there will inevitably be deaths. And therefore I call on the public authorities to act, and give shelter to the people who are there,” said Pierre Henry, the director of the France Terre d’Asile charity.
Some bathe in the canal’s unsanitary waters, while the mobile phones and subsidies handed out by authorities to some of the asylum seekers are the target of attacks, with knives used as weapons to obtain them, said charity volunteer Pauline Doyen.
“There is too much crazy people. I see, look, this is my face. I fight yesterday here,” a 24-year-old Pakistani man, who gave his name as Suleiman, said in broken English .
“I am new,” Suleiman said, showing a trace of blow on his cheek which he says he sustained trying to stop people stealing his belongings. “People take my phone, I have 300 euros, it is taken.”
The Paris municipality and government disagree on how to tackle the situation and blame each other for it, drawing criticism from charities.
In a letter to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke of the “chaos (that) now characterizes the campments”, asking the government for action.
An Interior ministry source described the relations between the municipality and the government as “complex” and said Hidalgo was blocking their plans to evacuate the camp. In her letter Hidalgo confirmed she thought the government’s evacuation plan was not the right solution.
Additional reporting by Feyi Adegbite; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams