Migrants and other populations on the street in France are a particularly fragile public. Left to their own devices, without being able to confine themselves, they too risk being victims of the disease and spreading it. Investigation.
On March 24, 2020, the public authorities evacuated a camp at Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis), including “hygiene and promiscuity (…) were controversial in full confinement due to the coronavirus “, reports the AFP. “Before the evacuation, we witnessed surreal scenes. The people present were confined without water and sanitation. Brigades of mounted police prevented them from leaving”, told franceinfo Afrique Louis Barda, general coordinator of the NGO Médecins du Monde (MDM). “We act for health reasons, these are people who are very promiscuous”, at Explain the prefect Anne-Claire Mialot during the operation. The result: some 700 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were taken to four gymnasiums (two in Paris and two in Seine-Saint-Denis) and two hotels in Seine-Saint-Denis.
According to the prefect, the gymnasiums were arranged so that there was “one meter between each bed”, and by reducing the number of people hosted per site. But during the evacuation, “the precautionary measures were weak, we did not put in place the barrier gestures”, reports Louis Barda. In his eyes, we acted in “precipitation” because of a “media context”.
The NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) was responsible for examining those who had been relocated. “We made 387 consultations and identified 25 suspected cases (implied potentially suffering from coronavirus, Editor's note). We have isolated them as much as possible. But in a gymnasium, it's not very obvious. So it can only be a temporary solution. Subsequently, five cases were found to be positive “, says Corinne Torre, head of mission France at MSF. Not all of the evacuees could be screened due to the lack of tests. Another difficulty: some of those who lived in the camp, estimated at around a hundred, did not benefit from shelter.
Generally speaking, according to association representatives, the accommodation solutions chosen are not necessarily suitable. “The ideal would have been to choose smaller places of reception. There, we created groups where the probability of circulation of the virus is very strong”, specifies Louis Barda. At the same time, it is difficult to get barrier gestures adopted by rehoused people. “It would be possible if we have more staff and resources available in these reception centers”, explains Corinne Torre.
Beyond that, the question of the attitude to adopt towards migrants in the context of the coronavirus lies in a more general problem: that of the reception of all the homeless. The current crisis “only worsens the social and health situation of these fragile groups, including migrants and refugees”, underlines an activist association in the Val-de-Marne.
“We are dealing here with people who have been on the street for months, even years, and live in abysmal sanitary and hygienic conditions, without water, without the possibility of washing, without access to healthcare. Some have had to stop medical treatment, may have illnesses such as tuberculosis. Those suffering from the virus may thus suffer from other pathologies “, says the MSF representative. “It’s an abandoned audience that is not being taken care of. People have heard of the pandemic. It worries them. But they do not necessarily know the barrier gestures”, explains Louis Barda.
In the current period, with a society idling, but an overheated health and social system, the situation of these populations is particularly difficult. “The whole system is on stand-by”, notes Louis Barda. “Everyone is embarrassed”, adds Corinne Torre.
As for associations, there are fewer volunteers for the reception or the marauders. MSF is trying to deal with the most urgent matters and has set up four mobile teams in Paris and in Seine-Saint-Denis. MDM a especially set up “health watch activities” with migrants. For the latter comes an administrative problem: “The prefectures are closed, which blocks the progress of their case”, observes the activist association of Val-de-Marne.
Furthermore, if the situation is acute in the Paris region, “It is not exceptional. We must also talk about what is happening in Calais, Grande Synthe, Bordeaux …”, recalls Louis Barda. In Calais, migrants are “abandoned” face the disease, explains the site reporterre.net, whose journalist went there on March 23.
“One week after the entry into force of the containment measures, no sheltering (did not have) was decided to protect the two thousand refugees who live in camps on the northern coast of France. On the ground, associations (were) very worried about the dire sanitary conditions. “ “People are kept very precarious. They are exhausted, stressed, tired”, then noted an official of the association Utopia 56, cited by Reporterre.
In this difficult context, “It's complicated to talk about national confinement, if you leave people outside”, concludes Corinne Torre. For Louis Barda, “We see today as we pay for years of inaction, of failure to take care of a vulnerable and stigmatized public”.