Thanks to Anne Hidalgo, there will soon be two refugee camps at the heart of Paris

A makeshift refugee camp outside the Austerlitz Station, Paris. Image: Getty.

 Walking around the Paris's iconic Saint Martin canal these days, you are more likely to encounter tents and tired refugees than Amélie Poulain gleefully skimming stones across the water.

As the city prepares to open its first refugee camp in mid October, the number of people arriving in Paris has continued to escalate, and is now reaching unprecedented levels. And, as the French government moves to dismantle “the jungle” camp in Calais, numbers are likely to carry on increasing.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, announced plans to build two refugee camps in the city back in May. “We cannot accept any longer the humanitarian situation, the sanitary situation that migrants have to put up with,” she told reporters.

The first camp on Boulevard Ney, in the north of the city (18th arrondissement), will provide shelter for single men, and is due to open this month. The second will be located in an old waterworks site in Ivry-sur-Seine, a suburb south of Paris, and is set to open at the end of 2016. It will provide accommodation for around 350 single women and families.

These camps are the government's response to a growing crisis on the streets of Paris. Thousands of asylum seekers and refugees use France as a transit point as they try to reach the UK, and multiple makeshift camps have emerged all over the city. As many as 1,400 people now occupy these camps, where they are forced to sleep on the filthy streets.

Since June 2015, the authorities have evicted people from around 20 such camps around Paris: some from under railway bridges around Jaurès Metro station and Les Jardins d'Eole park in Stalingrad, others from along Quai d'Austerlitz by the Seine.

Most of the camps have been located in the north of the city. The camps around Jaurès station – in the 19th arrondissement, by the canal – have frequently been broken up by police. Refugees are taken to makeshift shelters all around Île-de-France, but many more arrive daily. Security men with dogs patrol the basketball courts below the railway tracks, but refugees continue to sleep in this area, using public taps to clean their clothes and the public toilets around the canal. They have few other options.

Hidalgo has said that the situation in Paris is “no longer tenable”. To come up with a solution, she is working with Emmanuelle Cosse, the minister of Housing and Sustainable Habitat; Philippe Bouyssou, the mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine; and Eric Lejoindre, the mayor of the 18th arrondissement.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo announces plans for the new camps. Image: Getty.

The new camps are being constructed at an estimated cost of €6.5m (£5.5m), of which 80 per cent will be funded by the municipal authorities. The first will be located in a disused warehouse belonging to the city and the SNCF railway company. It's being converted to house 400 male migrants in a camp that will consist of eight brightly coloured “neighbourhoods”; there will be six showers and latrines for every 50 men.

The number of residents is set to increase to 600 by the end of the year as there are plans to add another 200 beds. The camp will be managed by the Emmaus Solidarity Association – a group which has been working with homeless people in France and internationally since 1949.

Next to this camp will be a day centre, housed in an inflatable bubble eight meters high. Here pre-assessments will be carried out by social workers, Emmaus Solidarity workers and the OFII (the French Office of Immigration and Integration).

The centre will include a care centre and provide accommodation for new migrants for a few days, until places are available in dedicated structures. Accommodation will be in a building divided into eight blocks, with prefabricated wooden rooms for four people. Nearby, a “transport hub” will allow the movement of migrants to the accommodation and will be managed by the state.

Refugees will be allowed to stay for only five to 10 days in the Paris camps, after which they are supposed to be taken to “welcome and orientation centres” (CAOs) for asylum seekers  seekers elsewhere in France. The city of Paris does not distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, but the government does. Only those deemed to have a valid claim to asylum will be taken to the CAOs.

A man walks on the basketball court of disused secondary school Guillaume-Bude, on which is painted in French and Arabic 'Solidarity with refugees' and 'Silence is a crime, together for the dignity of refugees'. August, 2015. Image: Getty.

There is some opposition to the camps. In September, the roof of a new centre for asylum seekers at Forges-les-Bains, 45km southwest of Paris, was burned down overnight, just hours after a demonstration against the centre. The interior minister promised that, if, as suspected, it was an arson attack, the perpetrators will be punished.

Throughout Europe, the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War continues to create challenges – administrative, logistical, social and cultural. With anti-immigrant sentiment rising, the political challenge is considerable, and the situation continues to intensify. France itself has been engulfed in demonstrations throughout 2016, with truck and tractors drivers, as well as farmers and other locals, blocking the main artery in and out of the port of Calais.

Fortunately, there are many charities and other organisations trying to help. Singa is one of several groups working with refugees in Paris. It organises events and workshops to encourage socio-economic integration for asylum seekers.

“By the end of September, we will more than double the capacity of the refugee centres, from 2,000 to 5,000 beds,” the housing minister Emanuelle Cosse told Le Monde, adding that all major cities across the country had accepted the move. Nonetheless, this may not be enough: Cosse has also welcomed the idea of individuals housing refugees, because the formal centres will soon become full.

Since 2015, more than 15,000 migrants present in the Paris area have been protected thanks to the work of NGOs, the City of Paris and the Prefecture of Île- de- France. But these are only the documented migrants – just a fraction of the number of desperate people coming to the streets of Paris every day.

The immediate focus must be on continuing to provide beds, food, clothes and medical care. After that, the more challenging long term task involves creating support systems, permanent housing, education and eventually, integration.

“In 10 or 15 years,” Hidalgo said on 31 May, when she promised to establish the city’s first official refugee camps, “I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and not feel guilty for failing to help people in danger.”

Only time will tell if the city is doing enough.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.