It's easy to get the sinking feeling that "nothing can be done" to help the refugees fleeing to Europe. But in Paris, there’s a different story taking place.
** Updated September 17th after the transfer of the refugees at Austerlitz and La Mairie du 18ème to different shelters in and around Paris.
International news sites have been endlessly looping news about the plight of the refugees fleeing their home countries for what they thought would be safer shores in Europe. Unfortunately most of what is being reported is saddening, whether it's about those who died making the journey in leaky boats or airless trucks, or about the ugliness of hate groups such as the Front National in France trying to demonize them as “clandestins” (despite the fact that they are war refugees, not “economic migrants” (French article).
But Parisians refuse to let Marine Le Pen speak for them, and are acting collectively and independently to welcoming the refugees with assistance, compassion, and public demonstrations of support.
Visitors to France may only know about the refugees in Calais who are trying to make their way to England. But not everyone is just passing through France. Several hundreds settled in tent camps around Paris, most noticeably (for tourists) along the Left Bank of the Seine on the Quai d'Austerlitz, in the 13th. This is close to my neighborhood, and I run regularly along the banks of the Seine, so I watched as their numbers grew over the summer (see the excellent photo documentary by Mauricio Alvarez, Invisibles).
Some of the tents on the Quai d'Austerlitz were right below the trendy Wanderlust bar.
In Paris, the local authorities have been working to find temporary housing for refugees while their paperwork is being processed so they can have the legal right to seek jobs and permanent housing. In France, those without passports or visas are called "sans papiers" (or Without Papers), not "illegal aliens". While they are waiting for their asylum requests to be processed, they are not allowed to work and must rely on the State and charitable organizations for everything including food, housing, and medical assistance.
Volunteers teaching French to refugees in the Austerlitz camp.
Unable to stand by doing nothing while politicians and commentators debate the “issues”, Parisians have decided to take matters into their own hands by helping refugees themselves, either independently or through local charities. In an unprecedented show of solidarity they are bringing them food, clothing, medical supplies, sleeping bags, tents, and anything else they can offer, including simply sitting with the refugees over coffee and croissants to listen to their stories. Their outpouring of support is inspiring.
On September 17th the refugees from the Austerlitz camp as well as the refugees gathered in front of the Mairie du 18èmem (Town Hall of the 18th district) were transferred on busses by aid workers to almost two dozen different shelters in and around Paris as a temporary mensure while their paperwork is being processed. But they are still in need of everyday necessities, metro tickets, winter coats and shoes, and food.
How You Can Join in Helping the Refugees in Paris
The French press has published several articles about the local efforts, listing resources for those who want to join in helping out the refugees either on their own or through local charity organizations in need of extra hands. I’ve attempted to compile these all into one list with descriptions in English to make it easier to navigate the different options available for helping the refugees in Paris. I will be updating it as I get more information, so please don’t hesitate to contribute anything I may have missed in the comments section below.
The four main ways to help the refugees:
- Volunteer “Devenir Bénévole”: there are many options for volunteers to help out depending on your skills and availability: food and clothing distribution; translation; accompanying for legal, medical or administrative meetings; host cultural outings or social events; language lessons; etc. See the list below for volunteer opportunities.
- Donate Necessities “Un Don en Nature”: aside from clothing, shoes, bedding, and hygiene products, many temporary shelters have lists of necessities such as cleaning products, cooking supplies, stationary and pens, calling cards, metro passes, etc. Many of the charities and action committees listed below post regular updates to what is most needed (this week it’s rain gear and plastic tarps), and where and when to deliver it.
- Financial Contributions “Faire un Don”: All of the local charitable organizations listed below are collecting funds specifically to help the refugees in Paris and throughout France, which are tax deductible for French residents.
- Offer a Bed: The first two organizations listed below (Singa and JRS) help bring together refugees who need short-term housing with locals who are willing to share a spare room or sofa bed. These are carefully coordinated and monitored to foster cultural understanding and support for refugees who benefit from real contact with compassionate locals.
Organizations for Helping Refugees
Singa is a French NGO (non-governmental organization) that aims to integrate refugees into French society (language, customs, administration, etc), helping them find jobs or create their own businesses. They also work to create real connections between the refugees and the locals, to overcome the exclusion and discrimination many face. Their new program called CALM, which stands for Comme à la Maison (“Just Like Home”), is a sort of Airbnb bringing together refugees and hosts willing to open up their extra room or sofa bed for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of six months. More than just housing, the group aims to foster cross-cultural understanding, and offers daily support for the hosts and guests. The program is funded by private donors and a technology and innovation grant from the UN High Commission for Refugees. Read more about them in this English article from France 24. If your French isn’t very strong, don’t hesitate to send them a message in English (or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service): is looking for individual or families willing offer their hospitality for their Welcome in France service, hosting a refugee in their home for a family meal, for a night, or for a short vacation. Hosts in Ile-de-France are especially needed for the asylum-seekers living outside Paris who have to come up by train for the day of their asylum interview at the Prefecture. They also accept financial donations.
Autremonde: This Association Jeunesse de Solidarité works directly with migrants and refugees in need of support. They need financial donations and volunteers. Every Tuesday night at 7pm they welcome prospective volunteers for an info session at Café dans la Mare (30 rue de la Mare, 20th). Their Facebook page is updated more than their website.
Emmaüs Solidarité: One of the largest charity groups in France has thrift stores and collection points around Paris for donations of clothing, linens, dishes, toys, furniture and small items, as well as a constant need for financial assistance and volunteers for short or long-term missions (helping receive and sort the donations for the refugees is the current biggest need). From September through December Emmaüs trucks will be picking up donations at special collection points all over Paris (click on the dates to see the location and what’s accepted).
Croix Rouge: The French Red Cross is often the first aid agency in France on the ground welcoming the refugees, including the 1000 refugees transferred to Paris from Germany this week. You can help with financial donations specifically for the refugees, or volunteer for one of their many diverse missions (first aid, distribution, communications, translations, etc) either short-term or long-term (speaking French necessary).
Secours Populaire Français: Another large French charity organization with over 1400 welcome centers to help the poor and disenfranchised in France, the Secours Populaire is accepting financial donations (a pop-up for the refugees opens on the home page) as well as volunteers for local missions according to your skills and availability (minimum French needed to fill out the application).
France Terre d’Asile is a non-profit charity that works to assist refugees and asylum seekers in France, particularly helping navigate the legal and administrative maze of obtaining residency status. In addition to financial donations, they urgently need volunteers who can translate or interpret for the following languages into French: arabe, farsi, roumain, chinois, turque, russe, ourdou, vietnamien, albanais, portugais, soninké, bambara, tamoul, bulgare, amharique, somalien.
Droit au Logement: A non-profit that lobbies for housing for everyone, including homeless, evicted and refugees in need. They are in need of financial support, and regularly organize support marches and concerts in Paris.
Rechauffons Corps & Coeurs: I wrote about this young group of suburban teens in the Secrets of Paris Newsletter #151. They welcome donations of funds, food and/or volunteers for their weekly food deliveries (they are based in the Vitry suburbs of Paris, but have gone to Calais and regularly go to the Austerlitz camp). The least “formal” and probably the most accessible (although I don’t know how good their English is), call (07 81 94 97 16) or email (email@example.com) if you want to lend a hand.
Revivre is a charity created in 2012 specifically to welcome and assist Syrian refugees. They are always in need of funds and volunteers (they also host social events like a Franco-Syrian picnic this Sunday).
Entraides Citoyennes is collecting clothing, sleeping bags, and hygiene supplies.
Médecins du Monde: “Doctors of the World” works on all five continents in different contexts (internal violence zones, conflict areas, medical deserts, natural disasters, etc.) and around 4 priority themes (health and migrants, sexual and reproductive health, AIDS and harm reduction, crisis and conflict). They accept financial donations.
UNICEF France: This international organization helping children and refugees accepts financial donations and volunteers (regular info meetings for UNICEF Paris volunteer opportunities are listed here). They also have a boutique near Gare St-Lazare selling their greeting cards and other items for charity.
Un Coeur Pour la Syrie France: This non-profit charity works directly with Syrian refugees around France. They accept financial donations and have a “boutique solidaire” of items benefitting the refugees (many hand-made by refugees themselves). They’re hosting a social event on October 2nd in Paris, listed on their Facebook page.
This weekend (September 12-13) is also the Fête des Associations, where the non-profit and charitable associations will have stands at their local arrondissement where residents can find information about what they do and the volunteer opportunities available (find your district’s local festival here).
Each arrondissement’s Mairie (Town Hall) will have a “Collection Solidaire” space to collect items needed by the refugees (lists of what they need will be posted online at Paris.fr sometime this month.
Other Resources for Helping Refugees
If you want to help out at the different shelters or donate items, there are several Facebook sites set up by volunteers from refugee sites in and around around Paris (with some bi-lingual ressources) that post daily updates about what is most needed in each location. They are not charity organizations, simply “spokes people” for the refugees and/or lobbying groups who also post the latest news on the living conditions and the government’s actions (or lack thereof).
Note that even though these shelters all provide a roof over their heads, in many cases that's all they have: some of the shelters have no beds or any furniture at all, some have no bathing facilities or heat. Some are so far outside Paris that the refugees will need to take the RER into Paris for their interviews at the Prefecture, so metro tickets and volunteers who can accompany them around the city's maze of public transport are welcome.
Refugiés en Lutte (French-English): this FB group attempts to consolidate all of the information concerning the refugees in Paris, including an open Google Doc Housing Centers in Paris Region (Page 2 is in English) listing all 13 known shelters, how many refugees are in them, what they need, and what services are being provided by charities. The group also has a Refugiés en Lutte (website (French only) news blog with photos and links to latest news on the refugees.
Other FB groups:
- Solidarité Jules Joffrin (French only) group run by students for the refugees who were in front of the Mairie du 18ème.
- Solidarité avec les migrants du quai d'Austerlitz (French only)
- Comité de soutien des Migrants de la Chapelle (French Only)
- Réfugiés de La Chapelle en Lutte (French Only)
- Réfugiés d'Austerlitz en Lutte (French Only)
- La Maison des Refugiés (the shelter at the Lycée Jean Quarré, Paris 19th, list of needs below)
Je m’Engage: Most charitable organizations expect a minimum of one year commitment from volunteers (because training is an investment of time and resources), but the French website Je m’Engage allows you to search for “missions” by location and date, from several days to a year (and this is the link specifically for helping the refugees: http://bit.ly/1K1twtK) . The most urgent needs are to help process donations and accompanying the newly-sheltered refugees on their trips to the doctor, prefecture, etc (for all of you expats out there, we’ve been through this ourselves and know how much it sucks when you have no clue what’s going on, so we’re particularly qualified to help).
Aidons Les Réfugié(e)s: A French website bringing together all of the options for helping refugees, where you can join an organized action or propose your own initiative.
Le Libération news site has a compiled a map of more organizations that need volunteers and donations throughout France, searchable by need (food, housing, teachers, administrative/legal assistance, welcome services): http://www.liberation.fr/apps/2015/09/aide-aux-refugies/#/
This is an interesting first-person account from a French blogger (in French) who has been dropping off donations to the school house shelter in the 19th, with advice on how to do the same yourself in the most efficient manner: http://lajournaliste.over-blog.com/2015/09/aider-les-refugies-comment.html
This is a working list, please help out by sending updates, corrections, additions or suggestions for improvement, merci!