Paris Journal 2006

Sunday, August 20

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The Pyramid designed by the American architect, IM Pei, at the Louvre.


The Sainte Clotilde Basilica in the 7th arrondissement.


Statue in the park in front of the Sainte Clotilde Basilica.

I’ve been following a startling news story here in the Paris region.  Evidently, a group of about 500 homeless immigrants had been occupying an empty former school dormitory in Cachan, in the Val-de-Marne department, for about four years.  Most are originally from the Ivory Coast or Mali, and some are from Algeria.  Most have papers (legal status), and a great many of the men have jobs.  But they still have not been able to find lodging in the Paris region.  (Remember that Isaach de Bankolé only was able to find an apartment in Paris when he added the “de” in front of his last name?  See August 17.)


The dormitory is slated for demolition because it is too deteriorated.  It also is full of asbestos and lead paint.  Last April, the courts decided that the squatters must leave.  But some non-profit associations urged them to stay put until the government came up with “appropriate” lodging for them.  So on Thursday, the government (prefecture and national, not the local) sent in 900 police officers, 600 firemen, ER doctors, and the Red Cross, and the 500 squatters were forced to leave.  Some 300 did, and they were put up mostly in hotels, I think, all over the region.  But that left 200 or so still camping out, outdoors, next to their former “home.”


The expulsion was described as “virile” and “powerful,” forcing the families of squatters to leave behind many of their possessions.  They took only what they were able to carry.  Lots of children’s toys were left behind.  Lots of children were crying their eyes out.


Many of the men were at work, and when they returned “home” they did not know where to find their wives and children.  One man in that situation said, “While in Africa the French are well received, here, we are treated like dogs.”


I don’t understand this chaos because the government claims that they had everything all ready, with 1000 hotel rooms and services available.  But only about 300 of the 500 squatters were put up in hotels that first night.  The government claims that the problem was that the non-profit associations had convinced 200 or so of the 500 squatters not to budge.  But I think part of the problem was that the government was offering only one month in a hotel, and what would happen after that was unclear.


So many of the children in the remaining group (about 60 of the remaining 200 squatters are kids) got sick from sleeping outside in the cold.  Temperatures at night, outside Paris, were in the 50s F.  Neighbors offered the families the use of their bathrooms.


Then the next day the government sent in forces who used brutality to force the remaining squatters to leave the grounds.  After about 10 minutes of violence, the squatters were defeated.  In the violence, one woman had her knee broken, a man had his ribs broken, and a little boy had his lip split open.  Two pregnant women fainted.  A man was unconscious, probably because he was hit on the head.


By about 8PM, the local government of Cachan (with a Socialist mayor) had temporarily provided a gymnasium for them to stay in until they can be placed in “appropriate” lodgings.  The gym is too small for everyone, so the women and children sleep there, and the men sleep in the corridor or outside.  The mayor is pleading with the prefecture and the national government to come up with a bigger facility.  It is the prefecture and the national government that are forcing the end of this “squat,” not the city of Cachan.  But the prefecture and the State have not yet mastered the situation.


Out of the original 500 squatters, forty-some did not have legal status and are going through the tribunal process.


As for the Cooleys, we went on a long walk yesterday and had a relaxing lunch at Le Bourbon, the beautiful brasserie/restaurant on the Place du Bourbon, right next to the National Assembly building.  Then in the evening, we had a delicious dinner (the travers de porc – barbequed ribs- are finally back!) with J and M from Sanibel at La Gauloise.  We enjoyed meeting their friend Nancy, a Californian, who also dined with us.


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