PARIS — Jibran tells of escaping Taliban attackers who killed three of his brothers. He survived crossing into Europe in a refrigerated truck, he says, and persuaded the French authorities to grant him asylum. But the 24-year-old Afghan is still sleeping in a tent on the frozen streets of Paris.
He is one of hundreds of homeless migrants who sleep in frigid encampments under bridges, in parks and near bustling nightclubs in the French capital, according to observations made by The New York Times over three nights.
Housing and integrating an influx of migrants is a chronic problem in Paris and many other European cities.
“I do not want to have men and women on the streets, in the woods, by the end of the year,” the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said in July.
That promise, however, has proved difficult to keep, said Raphaël Sodini, the French Interior Ministry’s director of asylum. When the sprawling camp in Calais known as the Jungle closed in October 2016, many of the 8,000 migrants there found their way to other cities, including Paris.
France has built new processing centers and accelerated asylum decisions, but the authorities have not kept pace with the steady stream of new arrivals, and emergency housing for migrants is limited. There are only 400 beds available for single men in Paris, and each man is limited to 10 nights.
“We are well aware of the fact that the housing of immigrants in Paris needs to be improved, and it will be improved in the coming weeks,” Mr. Sodini said.
I spent three nights with workers from Paris Refugee Ground Support, an informal aid group that delivers blankets and other necessities to migrants living on the streets as they wait to learn their fate in France.
The details of the stories told by the migrants could not be confirmed, but all described common obstacles to finding housing in Paris.
Abdelbashir, 20, said he had recently arrived from Sudan. He described escaping violence in Darfur through the Sahara, traversing the Mediterranean on a rickety fishing boat, and crossing into France from Italy on foot, wearing the same flip-flops he left home in.
Like many migrants, he was waiting for an asylum appointment and longer-term housing. But even those who get a place risk losing it over minor infractions. Information in migrants’ native languages is scarce, and the rules at asylum hostels — like curfews and visiting policies — change constantly.
I found Ismail, a 25-year-old Somalian, asleep under a shower curtain in a urine-soaked enclave beneath a highway. As he pulled his asylum papers from his backpack, he began to cry.
He said that he had been living on the streets for more than a year, and that he had not contacted his wife or children — who were living in a refugee camp in Kenya — out of shame.
“I respect France, but France does not respect me,” he said.
A decision on migrants’ asylum claims can take as little as two weeks. Some are granted asylum and stay in France, while others are sent back to the first European Union country they landed in or deported to their home nation.
But securing an appointment with an asylum office can take weeks or months, and France provides only the bare essentials, like water and toilets, to those who wait.
Mohammed was sleeping with a group of nearly 70 men in a park just beyond the city limits as he waited for his appointment. The 22-year-old Sudanese man recounted seeing nearly half the people who had been crammed onto a boat with him drown when their vessel sank off the Libyan coast.
I asked if he had learned any French while he was waiting. He said that it was difficult, but that he knew two words for sure: “thank you” and “maybe.”
In recent months, even finding a place to sleep on the streets has grown difficult. Migrants fear being spotted by the heavily armed police forces, who regularly rouse encampments, crushing or slashing tents so they can no longer be used.
“We are allowing the words ‘refugees’ and ‘terrorists’ to become synonymous in Europe,” said Deborah Hyde, an aid worker with Utopia56, a French nonprofit focused on helping migrants. In fact, she said, those arriving in Europe are often fleeing terrorism themselves.
Said, 28, left his resettlement camp in northern France to try to find work in Paris. He showed me a picture on his phone of the lakeside in his hometown, Taqba, in Syria, which he said was a short drive from Raqqa, the former Islamic State stronghold.
“Do you think I want to be here?” he asked, gesturing to the piece of cardboard he was sleeping on. “No, I want to be there — but it’s impossible.”
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