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Tucked Beneath a Paris Nightclub, Migrants in a Tent City Try to Survive

As many as 200 migrants live in the so-called Austerlitz slum, near the banks of the Seine and below the popular club Wanderlust.

by Matthieu Jublin
Jun 17 2015, 5:25pm

All photos by Matthieu Jublin/VICE News

Read more about the global maritime migrant crisis at VICE News' blog 'Open Water.'

At 10 o'clock Monday morning, the so-called Austerlitz slum wakes up as construction workers begin their jobs nearby. Several green and blue tents, among the dozens pitched here along the Seine, began to shake with activity. Adam steps out of one of them.

The 26-year-old comes from an area near Darfur in Sudan that has endured armed conflict since 2003. He doesn't have any papers, like most of the 100 to 200 people living in the tent city.

Over the course of the last few weeks, a handful of improvised camps have been evicted in Paris's northern areas around the La Chapelle metro station, and in Calais, where immigrants hoping to enter the UK were gathered. The evictions at the Quai d'Austerlitz, which were announced two weeks earlier by Paris police prefect Bernard Boucault, have not yet occurred. VICE News contacted the prefecture Monday to ask if an eviction is still planned, but they did not respond.


Tents of the Austerlitz slum below the terrace of the Wanderlust nightclub.

Adam caught up with Ibrahim and Ahmed, two other Sudanese men who were already awake. All three of them had come to the slum about two months ago, but Austerlitz is much older than that. According to other residents, it's been home to more than 100 migrants for at least a year, and home to various homeless populations for many years. In 2007, a study made mention of its existence and noted its location between the Ministry of Economy and several massive glass buildings housing investment banks.

Since 2012, the slum has also had another neighbor: the so-called City of Fashion and Design, an enormous cultural complex that attracts the city's young people with spots like Wanderlust, a stylish restaurant, bar, and nightclub.


Adam and two other migrants sit in front of slum tents.

"It's weird to live here," Adam said. "The people who party up there don't really come down here. Sometimes they look down."

Adam doesn't like to be photographed, but he agreed to talk about his journey, explaining that he paid several smugglers $2,800 to bring him from Libya to France by way of Sicily about seven years ago. A nasty scar on the lower part of his calf, the remnant of a bullet wound, serves as a reminder of his life in his native Sudan.

Related: More Than 50,000 Migrants Have Arrived in Italy This Year

"I have to get it checked out, but I want to get my papers first." Adam says of the wound. "I want to stay in France now."

But he finds the process of seeking asylum confusing.


Adam walks among the tents.

"The people here really like papers," he says with obvious sarcasm.

"If people here don't have papers, that's because they want to be refugees in the UK," says a Sudanese man named Ahmed before leaving to take his shower in a reception center close to the La Chapelle station.

Ahmed, a 30-year-old man from Sudan, stands in front of the slum.

A third Sudanese man, Ibrahim, is one of those hopefuls.

"I want to go to England." he says. "Over there, I know people, and then I'll speak English."

When he came to France two months ago, he went through Calais. "It's difficult there too, but more organized than here," he says. "It's every man for himself in the Austerlitz slum."

Ibrahim says he has tried five times to get on a truck headed to the UK, but without any success. He plans to try again next month. 

Two men leave the camp for the day.

On Monday, organizations including the French Human Rights League, ATTAC, and the Education Without Borders Network sent a letter to Paris's mayor and prefect to request "permanent accommodations" for the migrants, France 24 reported. In the meantime, these associations and several local groups are distributing food and supplies.

After the string of sometimes violent evictions, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed that a migrant shelter will be opened to aid people with or without papers, so that they can work on their asylum claims. However, she didn't specify when the shelter would be built.

Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter: @MatthieuJublin

Read more about the global maritime migrant crisis at VICE News' blog 'Open Water.'