Aid groups and social justice activists protested outside the Paris Olympics headquarters and appealed Monday to French authorities to protect the rights of thousands of migrants and others living on the streets as the Paris region prepares for the Summer Games.
Activists projected the words ‘’The Other Side of the Medal’' on the Paris 2024 main offices in the suburb of Saint-Denis and strung up protest signs outside the entrance in a brief demonstration Sunday night.
More than 70 nongovernmental organizations issued a letter Monday to Paris regional authorities, the Olympics organizing committee and Olympic sponsors warning of a risk of ‘’social cleansing’' of society’s most marginalized from the streets of Paris and its suburbs ahead of the Games.
Organizers of next year’s Games agreed to meet with the groups next week, and reiterated their promise to make the Olympics ‘’a vehicle for cohesion and inclusion.″ They also noted that Paris has long faced tensions over migration and homelessness.
Paris police routinely clear out tent camps housing migrants from around the world, citing public health and safety, but the French capital remains a magnet for people fleeing conflict or poverty, and camps routinely resurface.
Aid groups describe an acceleration in the evacuations of squats and makeshift slums used by migrants as the city prepares to host millions of spectators for the Games. Officials also sought to shut down food distribution points in some Paris neighborhoods earlier this month, but the move was rejected in court.
“Cities hosting the Olympics want to hide poverty -- and begging, drug use, whatever gives a less shiny image of a city,’’ said Antoine de Clerck of Refugee Food, an NGO that employs refugees to prepare charity meals and was involved in the Olympics protest.
While this phenomenon was seen in other Olympic host cities, too, he said, “Paris has said it wants to be exemplary in a social and environmental level.’’
The signatories to Monday’s appeal called for ‘’an ambitious and concerted policy ... to guarantee continuity of care of people in situations of precariousness and exclusion, before, during and after the Games.’’
Signatories include aid group Doctors of the World and the French branch of the Salvation Army as well as those who provide emergency housing, food, medical aid and administrative support to people living in the streets.
In response, the Paris Olympics organizing committee said in a statement, ‘’In a spirit of dialogue and listening, Paris 2024 will approach the protesters to meet representatives and discuss their concerns.’’ De Clerck said a meeting has been arranged for next week.
Aid groups are also asking local officials to include them in their planning discussions for keeping the streets secure during the Games — as well as for ensuring that the Olympics leave a positive long-term legacy for Paris’ poorest.
The Paris regional administration said Monday that it works regularly to find housing for newly arrived migrants and long-term homeless people, and that recent roundups had nothing to do with the Olympics.
Authorities clear out small tent camps nearly every week, and have put more than 5,600 people in temporary housing so far this year, according to an administration official. That is on par with 6,600 people in 2022, the official said.
Most are migrants arriving in France for the first time, notably from the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan or West Africa, the official said. She was not authorized to be publicly named according to administration policy. The Paris Olympics run July 26-Aug. 11, 2024.
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