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Migrants of Jean-Quarre

Photographer: Etienne Laurent

 

On 23 October 2015, about 1,300 migrants are evacuated from the Jean-Quarre high school in the 19th district of Paris, and dispatched all over France to several shelters.

 

With the support of French far-left movements and organizations, most of these migrants start occupying the abandoned building in mid-summer after being evacuated from various areas of the French capital.

 

The high school soon sees its front covered with graffiti reading ‘Refugees welcome’. The classrooms become dormitories. The four-floor building is split among different communities: the first floor is occupied by the latest arrivals, the second by Sudanese migrants, the third by the Eritreans, and the fourth by the Afghans. The school, named after the French communist resistant Jean Quarre executed by the Nazis in 1942, slowly becomes a Babel Tower where Arabic Persian, Urdu, Pashtun, Bambara and English are spoken.

 

Mattresses are put on the floor. An infirmary and a nursery are organized on the first floor. 'From time to time, fights erupt between the communities, when some are accused of stealing goods or food', recalls a volunteer.

 

Julian, a 23 year-old French student in medicine, helps in the infirmary, taking turns with two nurses and a doctor who comes every two weeks. They provide first aid and deliver drugs that people can get without a prescription, listen to the patients and if needed write letters to show hospitals in order to receive further medical care. 'People mostly come to see us for colds, scratches, allergies, all sorts of aches, but the main threat here is scabies, lack of hygiene and promiscuity among the migrants, which helps spread the sickness.'

 

Most of these migrants have applied for recognition of their status as refugees, and the process is still pending. Therefore, they often do nothing but wait in their rooms, drinking tea and chatting. In the courtyard, others play soccer or cricket, as some of the Afghan and Pakistani migrants bring bats. Some pray in the garden where they hang out their clothes to dry. They’ve been through hell to reach a promised land, and the wait is now gnawing at them.

 

On 25 September, a justice decision orders the evacuation of the premises within a month, for security reasons and lack of space. At 6am on 23 October, dozens of police vans park up outside the high school, and French riot police block all access to Jean-Quarre, as well as nearby streets to prevent any demonstrations.

 

In the playground, the migrants are rounded up and sorted into nationalities by members of the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII), assisted by security guards from Paris City Hall. The migrants do not resist, even though none of them know their new destination. The number of migrants decreases as buses arrive, and the streets are cleared around noon.

 

The high school is now locked up with chains. A private security guard and his dog watch workers throwing old mattresses out of the windows into large industrial bins. Jean-Quarre is waiting for its next occupants.