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The B-side of Europe

In January 1998 the Stade de France was inaugurated in the north of Paris. That frosty night in March the French team faced the Spanish team and, months later, the tricolor team won their first World Cup there. Since then, countless major concerts and numerous sporting events have been held, from rugby matches to the Champions League finals, thus making it an iconic venue for world sport. Interestingly, a few meters from this sports sanctuary is a refugee camp with more than 750 tents. The two faces of the same symbol in the heart of Europe.

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The makeshift camp, which is set up and dismantled based on police interventions, concentrates around two thousand people waiting for a safe haven to protect them in the cold months to come. Some manage to shelter under the A-1 motorway, others along the channel of the canal. On the other side of the avenue begins Saint Denis, the commune with the youngest population in the Gallic country, also the poorest. Hundreds of nationalities converge there and only 50% of the population remains more than ten years. Legend and reality stigmatize the municipality in whose basilica none other than the kings of France are buried. Again the face and the cross in the same place.

They are not like the fields of Moria, Syria or Kenya; here the shops are donated by associations, made by them or bought in a Decathlon a few meters from the place. At the entrance, a group plays football and others check their Facebook and Instagram accounts, after all they are young people wanting to take over the world. They have been wandering from country to country for months, and even years, because of guns and laws that do not allow them to stay on safe land. An example of how a dream can turn into a real nightmare. There are no women’s groups, although there are families with children, who in not so many years will explain to their descendants how they were welcomed into the Europe of freedom and the welfare state. Paris is not so romantic when you don’t have a measly euro in your pocket.

Some broken French, almost all speak English and even German, because they are well-educated people who once had a stable life and war and famine made them flee their home. They come mainly from Afghanistan, followed by African countries such as Somalia or Eritrea. Every day they go out to try to fight a duel with the endless bureaucracy or to make a living in the big city. Eating hot, being able to shower or charge your mobile in a public library is already a victory in itself. Unfortunately, in the camp not everyone wears a mask, because either they do not have one or simply the cold and hunger make the coronavirus less of a problem. A young man approaches amicably after the food distribution, he does not want to say his name, however he tells how his particular has been Interrail through Greece, Italy and Germany, where he even left a girlfriend that he plans to recover.

Some broken French, almost all speak English and even German, because they are well-educated people who once had a stable life and war and famine made them flee their home

Among the tents you can still see the Euro 2016 welcome sign. Winter is approaching and the bonfires to warm up are multiplying, but not the resources, since there is only one water point for the entire camp. Not to mention the comrades who are scattered throughout the city and those who stayed on the road. The authorities pass the buck without assuming more responsibilities than garbage collection. The problem of competences between administrations is not something unique to Spain. Perhaps the most dramatic thing is not only the ignominy of the public powers; few media echo a great humanitarian problem on our doorstep. Do not give a bad image when the long-awaited 2024 Olympic Games are just around the corner.

Not everything is desolation. Civil society is also capable of reacting when it seems that the authorities are paralyzed. An example is the collective Solidarité Migrants Wilson, an assembly group formed by residents of nearby communes. Every Thursday around 30 people gather. They distribute food, masks, information and hope. Perhaps the only kind face that many find in a society that seems to look the other way. There is room for everyone in this project: young, old, students, professionals, Muslims, atheists, priests and even some yellow vest. As for example Marie, mother of two daughters who tired of seeing the misery near her home decided to act and every week she cooks at home for a hundred people. Or Juliette, a student who lives in the Cinquième, but he comes by bike every Thursday night. And so a long list of citizens willing to unite to react against the silence and thus show the most welcoming face of old Europe.

Covid-19 has shown us that our lives can be soaked in uncertainty in a matter of hours, something like this the almost 80 million refugees live for a good part of their lives. For them, this second lockdown will mean a twist that makes it even more difficult for them to find food and streamline bureaucracy. When you are homeless, a lockdown seems like a practical joke.

However, it should not be fooled, this field of shame – as some call it – is not just a problem for France, which is usually generous in terms of social resources, it is a matter for the entire European Union that cannot a joint immigration response that meets their values ​​and expectations. According to him Eurostat ―European Statistics Office―, in 2019 alone there were 612,700 new applications for asylum in the Europe of 27, thus excluding those who have already applied before. Of these, only 38% of the first-instance asylum decisions in the EU-27 had positive results, with Syrians, Afghans and Venezuelans being the main claimants. The rest are condemned to wait in a strange purgatory or to flee from country to country.

They are the cracks in a system capable of achieving large projects but that is unable to defend the dignity of the neighbor who begs for help, again face B. Probably there is a lack of understanding, overall vision and, above all, will regarding immigration policy it means. It is true that we have cases of migratory failures where we can learn and also politicians who try to take advantage of this sad situation, however each country in the European Union has many examples where integration has been possible and things have been done well. It is not only a legal issue, it is a humanitarian issue. The problem is not only on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Africa or in America as many people believe, the drama of the refugees is still latent, even in the very heart of Europe.

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