PARIS—Five years ago, Guy left a pregnant wife in Ivory Coast, trekked across west Africa and crossed into Europe by clambering over a barbed-wire fence into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Morocco’s northern tip.
Today, the former factory worker has yet to find the promised land he had hoped for in Europe, seen by many Africans as a place of relative peace, political stability and bountiful jobs.
He and other immigrants who made their way to France say life is far tougher than they had expected, because of racism, housing woes, hassles with police and the near-impossibility of obtaining work papers.
Almost daily, young men of African descent mill about outside the Chateau d’Eau subway station, in a northern part of Paris with a big immigrant community. They peer down the steps, hoping to lure clients to the area’s many manicure and hairdressers’ shops.
They are a mix: French citizens, refugees from war-ravaged countries like Ivory Coast, illegal immigrants looking for jobs, political freedom and peace after conflict back home. Fearing expulsion, none of the non-French would give their surnames.
Police stormed the neighborhood on Wednesday, checking immigration papers and identity cards. Several witnesses said officers sprayed tear gas and manhandled many Africans.
“One cop said, ‘I’m checking your papers because you are looking at me,’” said Djakite, a refugee from Ivory Coast. “They wouldn’t even give me a chance to speak!”
A Paris newspaper published a photo of a policeman holding an African’s arms behind his back. Djakite insisted he was the man pictured and said: “I’m holding onto this photo to show to my twins when they are born. This is unjust.”
The immigrants, swarming around a reporter, variously insisted they do not do drugs, only want to work and occasionally help out police by intervening to nab pickpockets—but get no credit for it.
“It makes you regret having left Cameroon,” said Honore, 22. “France is not the country of human rights and freedom that it claims to be. It is humiliating—taking our dignity and our honor.”
“White people are mean,” he said, adding that only “psychological toughness” kept him from leaving a country that, despite it all, still offered him a way to send home $180 each month.