Posted on April 22, 2024

Hundreds Evicted From France’s Biggest Squat Months Before Paris Olympics

Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, April 17, 2024

Police have evicted hundreds of people from the biggest squat in France, in a southern suburb of Paris, prompting fresh accusations from charities that authorities are seeking to clear refugees, asylum seekers and homeless people from the capital area before the Olympics.

The squat, in an abandoned bus company headquarters in Vitry-sur-Seine, had been home to up to 450 people, many of whom had refugee status, legal paperwork and jobs in France, but who could not find proper housing. As they left the building they were encouraged to board buses to other parts of France.

The early morning eviction by police in riot gear began just as France celebrated the milestone of 100 days until the start of the Paris Games. Charities have said the state and authorities want to clear homeless people from the streets and squats to make Paris and its suburbs look better for the event, which begins on 26 July.

Clutching their belongings, 300 people left the squat at Vitry-sur-Seine calmly as about 250 police and gendarmes arrived. More than 100 others had left before dawn. Buses waited outside, ready to take people to the central city of Orléans or the south-western city of Bordeaux.

Many of those who had lived in the squat said they did not want to leave the Paris region because they had jobs there. “I want to stay here,” said Abakar, 29, from Sudan. He was in Paris to do a logistics course and had been promised a job in a supermarket.

The 450 people living at the squat included 50 women and 20 children. At least 10 children attended local schools.

The squat had doubled in size after hundreds of asylum seekers, refugees and homeless people were evicted last year from another squat in Île-Saint-Denis, near the Olympic Village site.

Paul Alauzy ,of the humanitarian organisation Médecins du Monde, had been giving health support at the Vitry-sur-Seine squat for three years. He is also a spokesperson for Revers de la Médaille (The Medal’s Other Side), a collective of charities and aid workers who warn that the Olympics are having an impact on the most vulnerable homeless people in the Paris area.

Alauzy said the collective denounced what they called “the effects of social cleansing for the Olympic Games”. He said there had been a steady pace of clearing groups of homeless people or squats for the past year.

“If there hadn’t been the Olympic Games, the population of this squat would not have doubled. The numbers grew because of the eviction of a squat near the Olympic Village,” he said.

Alauzy said the system put in place to bus people far from Paris and the surrounding area was concerning.

“I arrived at 5.30am. Hundreds of people were waking up, brushing their teeth and packing their last things when the police arrived,” he said.

Alauzy said 80% of the people living at the squat, many from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, had refugee status or were asylum seekers and had legal documentation. Many had jobs, including on building sites and in carpentry. One Sudanese man had shown his legal documentation, long-term work contract and payslips. “But he is a foreigner in France, and when you are Sudanese, even if you have all that paperwork, it’s impossible to find housing – landlords won’t accept you,” Alauzy said.

He said many of the people did not have proper access to healthcare. “There is also the question of psychological issues. People arrive at a squat and think they will finally have a place to live. But in the Paris banlieue, in a building with 450 people, in a collective squat with very little chance of integrating in the country, after a traumatic journey here, mental health is a concern.”

Jhila Prentis, a volunteer at the squat, said: “We know the rate of evictions from buildings and camps [of tents] has accelerated over the past few months. This building had no planning permission … The building evicted in Île-Saint-Denis is still empty … We can only draw the conclusion that they are trying to clear up the area for the arrival of tourists and international media for the Olympics.

“The situation of not having a place to sleep existed before the Olympics. It’s a crisis affecting a lot of European countries, including France. These people were living in a squat, while over 50% had refugee status and many had work. They should have appropriate housing.”