On Paris’s Icy Streets, Migrants Wait for Word on Refuge

“We are well aware of the fact that the housing of immigrants in Paris needs to be improved, and it will be improved in the coming weeks,” Mr. Sodini said.

I spent three nights with workers from Paris Refugee Ground Support, an informal aid group that delivers blankets and other necessities to migrants living on the streets as they wait to learn their fate in France.

The details of the stories told by the migrants could not be confirmed, but all described common obstacles to finding housing in Paris.

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“We had friends who died in the forest in Italy, but I was lucky,” said Abdelbashir, a migrant from Sudan.

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Erin Clare Brown for The New York Times

Abdelbashir, 20, said he had recently arrived from Sudan. He described escaping violence in Darfur through the Sahara, traversing the Mediterranean on a rickety fishing boat, and crossing into France from Italy on foot, wearing the same flip-flops he left home in.

Like many migrants, he was waiting for an asylum appointment and longer-term housing. But even those who get a place risk losing it over minor infractions. Information in migrants’ native languages is scarce, and the rules at asylum hostels — like curfews and visiting policies — change constantly.

I found Ismail, a 25-year-old Somalian, asleep under a shower curtain in a urine-soaked enclave beneath a highway. As he pulled his asylum papers from his backpack, he began to cry.

He said that he had been living on the streets for more than a year, and that he had not contacted his wife or children — who were living in a refugee camp in Kenya — out of shame.

“I respect France, but France does not respect me,” he said.

A decision on migrants’ asylum claims can take as little as two weeks. Some are granted asylum and stay in France, while others are sent back to the first European Union country they landed in or deported to their home nation.

But securing an appointment with an asylum office can take weeks or months, and France provides only the bare essentials, like water and toilets, to those who wait.

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Mohammed, 22, fled Darfur with his parents and six younger siblings to a refugee camp in Chad before crossing the Mediterranean alone.

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Erin Clare Brown for The New York Times

Mohammed was sleeping with a group of nearly 70 men in a park just beyond the city limits as he waited for his appointment. The 22-year-old Sudanese man recounted seeing nearly half the people who had been crammed onto a boat with him drown when their vessel sank off the Libyan coast.

I asked if he had learned any French while he was waiting. He said that it was difficult, but that he knew two words for sure: “thank you” and “maybe.”

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Migrants must constantly look for new places to sleep to avoid the police.

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Erin Clare Brown for The New York Times

In recent months, even finding a place to sleep on the streets has grown difficult. Migrants fear being spotted by the heavily armed police forces, who regularly rouse encampments, crushing or slashing tents so they can no longer be used.

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Two men slept in a crushed tent in an encampment.

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Erin Clare Brown for The New York Times

“We are allowing the words ‘refugees’ and ‘terrorists’ to become synonymous in Europe,” said Deborah Hyde, an aid worker with Utopia56, a French nonprofit focused on helping migrants. In fact, she said, those arriving in Europe are often fleeing terrorism themselves.

Said, 28, left his resettlement camp in northern France to try to find work in Paris. He showed me a picture on his phone of the lakeside in his hometown, Taqba, in Syria, which he said was a short drive from Raqqa, the former Islamic State stronghold.

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The coast in Tabqa, Syria, where Said lived before escaping the country’s civil war..

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Erin Clare Brown for The New York Times

“Do you think I want to be here?” he asked, gesturing to the piece of cardboard he was sleeping on. “No, I want to be there — but it’s impossible.”

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