PARIS — He’d been dwelling within the tent for 9 days when the police arrived.

“Bonjour, monsieur!” an officer shouted. “Reveille!”

Ba Dak crawled out of his sleeping bag, unzipped the tent flap and stepped into the frigid February air. The camp, tucked beneath the Charles de Gaulle Bridge on the northern financial institution of the Seine River, bustled with motion within the windy pre-dawn darkness.

Cops in neon inexperienced vests marched between rows of tents, whose inhabitants rose from slumber to pack their belongings. On both aspect of the camp, armed officers in black stood watch, forming traces that blocked pedestrians and bicyclists on the promenade. Above, police vans spanned the bridge, and officers ordered rubbernecking bystanders to maintain it shifting.

Dak huddled with mates on the fringe of the camp. All youthful than 21, they’d journeyed 1000’s of miles earlier than discovering refuge right here, as world conflicts proceed to compel thousands and thousands to flee their homelands looking for work and stability elsewhere.

Dak was 20 and from a household of farmers in South Sudan. He’d spent his teenage years as a soldier, then fled north, by automobile via Sudan and Libya, by boat throughout the Mediterranean Sea and by practice throughout Italy and Switzerland, arriving in Paris after practically two years. He aspires to grow to be a boxer and yearned for France, he stated, as a result of it produced his favourite athlete, the soccer star Kylian Mbappé.

Now the one dwelling he and his mates knew right here was dissolving, erased by a authorities in search of to take away unhoused individuals from its streets earlier than the Olympic Video games shines a worldwide highlight on Paris this summer season.

“So when the vacationers come, they gained’t need to see the dangerous individuals,” quipped Dak, who smiles simply and sometimes punctuates sentences with “bro.”

The sweep was a part of a program France launched in Might 2023. Officers billed it as an revolutionary effort to ease Paris’s housing disaster, by relocating individuals to newly constructed services across the nation reasonably than inns within the metropolis’s emergency shelter system. However advocates for refugees declare the federal government had extra particular motives: to clear Paris of its tent villages, release 1000’s of lodge rooms earlier than the Video games and establish individuals who aren’t eligible to legally stay within the nation.

“Transferring individuals out of Paris is a coverage determined due to the Olympic Video games,” stated Samy Djemaoun, a civil rights lawyer who represents immigrants in search of housing or authorized standing. “We didn’t have this case earlier than.”

Earlier than final Might, French immigration insurance policies had been extra permissive to new arrivals. An undocumented immigrant confronted decrease risk of a police sweep on the way in which to dwelling and dealing in France for the three years wanted to qualify for everlasting residency. An asylum-seeker denied official refugee standing may discover group and routine in a tent village whereas determining their subsequent transfer.

Now, with the Opening Ceremonies weeks away, dwelling in a tent brings fixed threat of eviction. By way of the primary 4 months of 2024, police evicted 20 websites throughout the town — greater than in all of 2022, based on authorities data. Each week, authorities clear a special camp in Paris, providing residents two choices: board a bus to a brief condo in one other a part of the nation and enter the relocation program, or discover one other place to sleep.

If an individual enters this system, the federal government offers a couple of weeks of housing whereas social staff assist them assess their possibilities of qualifying for asylum or everlasting residency. These candidates are transferred to longer-term housing and given a modest stipend whereas their circumstances are reviewed, a course of that may take six months or extra.

Those that are ineligible or decline to use are despatched off with a cellphone quantity for the emergency shelter system or a ticket in another country.

For a lot of, this system is as France advertises: a fast-track to stabler housing. Of the two,175 individuals who handed via this system throughout its first six months, 38 p.c transferred into longer-term housing, based on an inside authorities doc reviewed by The Washington Submit.

However 46 p.c ended up biking again into the nation’s short-term emergency shelter system, which doesn’t have sufficient beds to satisfy demand. So that they typically return to the streets, typically again in Paris, solely to be swept up once more by police. Twelve different individuals had been issued deportation orders, ending any probability of working their strategy to everlasting residency.

“For the Olympics, they cowl up the whole lot, however they don’t clear up the issue,” stated Paul Alauzy, a social employee with the nonprofit group Médicines du Monde and founding father of Le Revers de la Médaille, a coalition that goals to attract consideration on how Paris’ preparations for the Video games impacts the town’s marginalized communities. “Due to the Olympics, all people who lives on the streets might be impacted.”

Whereas the Olympics promotes a spirit of worldwide unity and cooperation, France is barely the most recent host nation to be accused of burnishing its picture on the expense of its most weak residents.

Authorities in China evicted 1.5 million individuals from their properties to accommodate new growth in Beijing earlier than the 2008 Olympics. Authorities in Brazil bulldozed properties in Rio de Janeiro favelas earlier than the 2016 video games. Earlier than the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver police cracked down on jaywalking, road merchandising and public urination in a low-income downtown neighborhood.

To arrange for the 2012 Olympics, authorities in Britain demolished low-cost condo complexes in London to make room for facilities aimed to serve Olympic athletes and guests. Then they did not comply with via on plans to assemble extra inexpensive housing within the metropolis. And with the 2028 Olympics on the horizon, Los Angeles launched a brand new coverage to filter encampments in some pockets of the town; in early March, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass visited Paris to study in regards to the metropolis’s method to lowering the variety of individuals dwelling on its streets.

In an interview, Christophe Noël du Payrat, an official at France’s Inside Ministry, stated that the relocation program “will not be as a result of Olympics” however “the rise of the demand” for emergency lodging. Those that don’t obtain longer-term housing after getting into this system, he stated, typically lack the factors for authorized immigration standing. “Both they’re going again to their nation or again into the streets,” he stated.

In a press release, a spokesperson for the town authorities stated that Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has referred to as on the nationwide authorities to make use of eminent area to show extra vacant buildings in Paris into emergency shelters.

The Worldwide Olympic Committee declined to reply questions on how the Olympics affect native insurance policies, saying in a press release, “The issue of homelessness in Paris is clearly exterior the remit of the Video games organisers.”

It’s an issue made particularly tense by two competing elements distinctive to Paris: A migrant disaster that has spurred tent camps alongside the town’s iconic river, and the need of organizers to make that river a centerpiece of the Video games. Regardless of the sweeps, the variety of individuals dwelling on the town’s streets rose from round 3,000 in January 2023 to three,500 in January 2024, based on authorities data. As police wipe out one other encampment and transfer scores of individuals out of Paris, scores extra arrive.

Not all new arrivals have acquired equal remedy. For individuals fleeing Ukraine, France established unique social providers facilities, modified legal guidelines to allow them to legally work and reserved round 87,000 beds throughout the nation.

“It exhibits how a lot France can do for individuals,” stated Djemaoun. “It isn’t in regards to the means. It’s about being prepared.”

A lot of the asylum seekers who enter the relocation program are from international locations in Asia and Africa, based on social staff and individuals. Some native officers exterior of Paris protested proposals to construct new shelters of their cities, claiming that their small cities lacked the assets to help asylum seekers. After Yannick Morez, the mayor of the western France city of Saint Brevin-les-Pins, introduced his help for a facility, anyone lobbed molotov cocktails onto his property, torching two automobiles and destroying his home. In December, the French Parliament handed a invoice that made it tougher for migrants from exterior the European Union to entry public housing and different social providers, although a court docket has since struck down elements of the laws.

Dak and his mates didn’t know all of that as they gathered their issues that morning, backs turned towards the biting gusts that leaped from the river, rustling jackets and tents. They simply knew they’d a selection: to get on the bus or preserve braving the streets.

Certainly one of Dak’s mates, a 20-year-old from Chad who had been in Paris for 23 days, bought on the bus, which took him east to an condo constructing close to Strasbourg. Two others, Ibrahim and Bilal, who had been 16 and had been in Paris for round a month, packed their belongings into procuring luggage and adopted the river west to a different camp.

Dak had an appointment that morning with the immigration workplace, so he opted towards the bus. He hoped his asylum declare would easy his path to long-term housing and official refugee standing, permitting him to remain completely and work legally. On the workplace, he submitted his finger prints, crammed out some paperwork and answered some questions. An immigration agent stated the workplace would contact him as soon as he was assigned to a mattress someplace.

“All the pieces will fall in the appropriate course, bro,” Dak stated. “I might be affected person it doesn’t matter what occurs. I’m not prepared to surrender my religion but.”

That afternoon, he walked again to the Charles de Gaulle Bridge. The camp was gone, changed by corrugated steel fences meant to forestall it from springing again up. Considering forward that morning, Dak had rolled up his tent and hid it inside a rubbish bin. He retrieved it and, as evening fell, he and a few dozen others arrange camp beside the fences, with Dak piling into his tent with two mates.

They fell asleep round midnight. An hour later, Dak stated, two law enforcement officials woke them and ordered them to depart. They cut up as much as keep away from consideration, fanning out alongside the riverbank looking for one other place to sleep.

THE SEINE RIVER WINDS via the center of France’s grand Olympic plans.

After securing the internet hosting bid in 2017, the federal government launched into an $8 billion mission to arrange Paris for the world’s greatest sporting spectacle, developing a new area in one of many metropolis’s lowest-income neighborhoods and an Olympic Village in a disinvested northern suburb.

The notoriously dirty Seine could be cleaned, the nation declared, so it may host swimming occasions and function the first route for the Opening Ceremonies, boasting a water parade unprecedented in Olympic historical past.

Internet hosting the Opening Ceremonies in a public setting, reasonably than a stadium, raised questions on safety. France answered with guarantees of a strong police presence, subtle surveillance and a “zero delinquency” coverage, to crack down on minor infractions close to Olympic websites such because the Seine.

“The aim,” Laurent Nuñez, head of Paris police, advised Le Monde final yr, “is to behave on all components of delinquency, from drug trafficking to pickpocketing or road gross sales, to anticipate as a lot as attainable and obtain a delinquency stage that’s nonexistent by the point of the Olympics.”

To arrange for the anticipated inflow of 15 million guests, the federal government advised inns they wouldn’t want to offer rooms for the town’s emergency shelter system. It constructed housing services in 10 cities across the nation, then elevated the police sweeps round Paris. Due to the brand new coverage, the capability of these inns “will fall by 3,000 to 4,000 locations” to accommodate guests for the Olympics, Housing Minister Olivier Klein advised the French Parliament final yr.

The day after the sweep, Dak texted Ibrahim and Bilal, who advised him in regards to the new camp they’d chosen, beneath the Pont Neuf, a forty minute stroll from the Charles de Gaulle. As he made his approach on the promenade alongside the river, the sights of Parisian postcards handed in his periphery, markers of the nation’s previous wealth: Sorbonne College, Hôtel de Ville with its colourful banners selling the Paris 2024 Olympics, the looming spires of Notre Dame Cathedral.

To advocates, the least France owed these born into previously colonized lands was a welcome refuge. At rallies on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, in entrance of metropolis corridor and beneath the Arc de Triomphe, social employee Alauzy and different activists have referred to as for the development of an official refugee camp within the metropolis earlier than the Olympics, which might allow the federal government and charity teams to funnel assets and providers to a single, designated web site with sufficient beds to accommodate the circulation of latest arrivals. The federal government has declined to behave on their calls.

“In a approach, the Olympics are so nice as a result of you’ll be able to seize the chance to say let’s do higher as a result of the entire world is watching,” Alauzy stated. “The dream could be to welcome all people who involves Paris.”


Begin of Opening

Ceremonies

route

LOCATION OF

THE ENCAMPMENTS

Finish of Opening

Ceremonies

route

CHIQUI ESTEBAN/

THE WASHINGTON POST

Begin of Opening

Ceremonies

route

LOCATION OF

THE ENCAMPMENTS

Finish of Opening

Ceremonies

route

CHIQUI ESTEBAN/THE WASHINGTON POST

Begin of Opening

Ceremonies

route

Finish of Opening

Ceremonies

route

LOCATION OF

THE ENCAMPMENTS

CHIQUI ESTEBAN/THE WASHINGTON POST

Tracing the Olympic parade route’s opening stretch, Dak handed a minimum of a dozen encampments. Blankets over the tops of tents saved the chilly from seeping via rips within the cloth. Cracked bistro chairs shaped a makeshift patio. Framed pictures and artwork on a tunnel wall indicated a longtime inhabitant.

The camp beneath the Charles de Gaulle had resembled a university campus quad, ringing with laughter and youthful optimism. Boys sat in circles on the bottom, displaying one another movies from social media on telephones with pay as you go SIM playing cards offered by charity teams. Others kicked round a soccer ball common from a cluster of rolled up socks. Newly shaped friendships ran so deep that some boys returned to go to the camp even after they’d secured everlasting housing.

It was via these friendships that Ibrahim, who got here from South Sudan, and Bilal, who got here from Chad, had heard that different younger individuals from East African international locations just lately established a camp beneath the Pont Neuf. The 2 didn’t get on the bus as a result of the relocation program was for adults, they usually feared that taking part would invalidate their claims as minors. Although they stated they had been 16, they didn’t have the paperwork to show it and had been going via a court docket course of to find out in the event that they certified for youngster welfare providers — a state of limbo so frequent that there’s a time period for it, “mijeur,” which mixes the French phrases for “minor” and “main.”

At Pont Neuf, Dak encountered round 20 tents alongside the perimeters of the cobblestone walkway, tucked away from public consideration. Within the evenings, Dak and others on the camp walked two miles east, to a meals pantry service exterior Gare de Lyon, the practice station throughout the road from the Charles de Gaulle Bridge. They walked in twos, threes and fours, cautious of police consideration.

Perched on a railing one evening, they ate a plate of greens and rice, with cornbread on the aspect and apple sauce for dessert. Ibrahim crammed water bottles into his backpack. Bilal donned a Philadelphia Eagles cap he had just lately discovered. Dak sported a pair of sneakers a pal from the camp gave him.

“I’ve to be affected person and the whole lot will occur,” Dak stated.

He stayed at Pont Neuf for a few week. Then he acquired a name from the immigration workplace, which issued him a practice ticket south, the place a mattress awaited him.

A number of days after he left, a rainstorm flooded the banks of the Seine beneath the Pont Neuf, soaking tents, blankets, and sneakers. Ibrahim and Bilal, who would proceed dwelling on the streets into the spring whereas their court docket circumstances performed out, rapidly rolled up their properties and went in search of one other place to sleep.

BEYOND THE LAVENDER FIELDS and rolling pastures of southern France, Dak’s condo constructing stood on the suburban outskirts of Salon-en-Provence, down the road from a McDonalds close to the freeway.

He moved right into a two-bedroom unit with individuals from Afghanistan, Guinea, Sudan and Togo. His roommate from Togo gave him two pairs of pants. His roommate from Sudan gave him two button-up shirts. The French authorities despatched a pay as you go debit card with 221 euros, his month-to-month stipend, and he started necessary weekly French language courses. Quickly groceries lined his desk.

He inquired about boxing courses at a neighborhood fitness center, however the value exceeded his price range. So he spent most of his days inside his room, watching previous boxing matches on YouTube, pumping out units of push-ups, messaging kinfolk in South Sudan. Mendacity on his mattress, he imagined the roles he may discover as soon as he had authorized standing, and hoped for work that may pay him sufficient to ship loads again to his mom and 4 youthful siblings. His father had died whereas Dak was making his approach north.

His household owned a farm on which it grew maize and pumpkin, however Dak stated that when he was 13, insurgent commanders recruited him to be a spy for the navy pressure opposing the South Sudan authorities, pulling him into the nation’s civil conflict. By 16, he stated, he was flying into battle with a rifle in his arms.

“First two years, I didn’t prefer it,” he stated. “Subsequent two years, I get extra snug. After which I stated, ‘What am I changing into?’ ”

By 2022, he stated, he’d grown disillusioned along with his commanders, who had made many guarantees they did not preserve. After ending up at a hospital in a U.N. refugee camp in Sudan with a bullet wound on his ankle, he stated, he befriended a shopkeeper who helped him get to Libya. In Tripoli, he met a farm proprietor who stated he would organize his transport to Europe if he labored for him for a yr. Eighteen months later, he was crossing the Mediterranean on a small boat filled with round 30 individuals. He landed in southern Italy and filed for asylum at a refugee camp.

From there, he stated, he train-hopped north, sneaking on when ticket takers weren’t wanting, hopping off when conductors caught him, hiding in a single day at stations throughout Italy and Switzerland till he reached Paris on Jan. 29, practically two years after he had left South Sudan.

On his first day within the metropolis, he encountered a bunch of East African migrants who guided him to a camp, helped him discover an empty tent and directed him to a charity that offered donated garments and a spot to bathe.

He was one among round 2.4 million individuals to depart South Sudan over the previous decade. Most have ended up in neighboring African international locations. Dak sought to be one of some thousand every year who file for asylum in France.

His homeland’s wrestle served because the backdrop for some of the inspirational tales of the 2024 Olympics. Ranked 62nd on the planet, South Sudan’s nationwide basketball group had certified for the Video games for the primary time, clinching a spot among the many 12 finalists by defeating Angola, the Philippines and China on the basketball World Cup in September. Practically each member of the group has been a refugee or the kid of a refugee. Some now reside in america or Europe, the place their basketball expertise has earned them school scholarships or skilled contracts.

Dak had no thought in regards to the group’s success till after he arrived in Paris and a pal on the camp advised him about it. He felt heartened by the goodwill the group delivered to South Sudan and its diaspora. The extra individuals knew about experiences like his, he hoped, the higher his possibilities of discovering a welcome reception.

However the legislation was a extra difficult matter.

In early April, after 5 weeks within the condo, Dak bought an replace: As a result of he had filed for asylum in Italy earlier than making use of in France, European Union coverage dictated that Italy was answerable for processing his declare, and he couldn’t search asylum in France until Italy denied him. He needed to depart France and full his asylum course of in Italy. He was now not eligible for presidency help. Quickly, one other particular person would cycle into the mattress he was leaving.

“They needed to present me a practice ticket to Italy,” Dak stated. “I refused to take the ticket.”

Final yr, beneath a brand new prime minister who goals to cut back the variety of immigrants from African international locations, Italy’s authorities handed legal guidelines enabling authorities to carry asylum seekers in detention facilities for as much as 18 months whereas their functions are processed.

“Bro, in Italy it’s very laborious as a result of they’ve racist guidelines,” Dak stated. “In the event that they ship me again to Italy, I’ll come again once more till they get bored with me so they are going to permit me to remain in France.”

Ultimately, he landed on one other thought: he would go to England, the place European Union insurance policies don’t apply. That nation didn’t supply a heat welcome, both. In April, its authorities handed a controversial legislation to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda. However with no interesting choices, Dak figured he’d take his possibilities.

Someday in April, Dak stated, he took a bus north to Calais, which sits close to the coast and has grow to be a hub for migrants hoping to cross the English Channel. Then he and two dozen others marched 9 hours alongside the freeway, to Dunkirk. The encampment there was the largest one he had seen in France, with scores of tents throughout a patchy dust area within the woods, hidden from the street behind a wall of timber. A charity group distributed meals, water, cleaning soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The person organizing the boat stated the timing trusted climate. The waves, for now, had been too tough.

On his fifth day in Dunkirk, police swept in.

“They rip up the tents,” Dak stated, and “chase us with tear fuel and electrical gun, however we’re all effective.”

Dak and a few others managed to cover their tents within the forest once they heard the police had been approaching. After the officers left, the younger males restored what was left of their camp and waited for the waters to calm.

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