“How did you realize the camp was being raided?” I asked my mom.
Technically, the migrants makeshift camp is right across the street but a small park and tall trees block the view from my parents’ apartment building.
“The fifteen police vans and trucks driving around were a bit of a clue,” she laughed.
On Monday morning, at 9 a.m., the infamous French CRS (“Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité”), the French national police force specializing in crowd and riot control, swarmed into square Daviais. Nobody was arrested—the mission was apparently to clear the refugee camp but leave people alone. The migrants were simply told to leave and they complied without protest. Various associations and neighbours stuck around to make sure they could take their belongings and tent—given by locals when they set up camp—and that their rights were respected.
At noon, the CRS were still there. Clothing and other personal effects left in the park were being gathered and bagged. A team in full hazmat suit was cleaning the place—since the migrants didn’t have shower and bathroom facilities, there were rats and other sanitation issues. That said, when I was there a few days ago, it wasn’t a mess either—the migrants did the best they could, considering the situation, it’s not like the place was trashed.
“Migrant camp evicted,” local and national newspapers said later in the day.
As if. As if it solved everything.
Question: what do you think happens when hundreds of refugees who spent months or even years crossing a continent to get to Europe are told to leave? “Oh, my bad, let me just go to the airport and buy a one-way ticket back home!”
I mean, it’s not like migrants were camping in the middle of the downtown core for fun. Like, they don’t roast marshmallows over a bonfire and enjoy Nantes’ finest tourist attractions. It was not a misunderstanding. The migrants set up camp in a public square without bathroom facilities because they have nowhere else to go.
In the evening, I went to see my grandparents who live a few blocks from my parents.
“I don’t mean to sound… ahem, old and racist,” my grandma said, “but I was sitting at the window tonight and… well, I’m not sure why, but there were dozens of black people walking by.”
I sat with her and sure enough, after five minutes, I counted about fifty black guys all carrying some gear or a tent.
I mean, Nantes is a big city. We’re not the kind of people who call the police when we see a black guy walking down the street. But it is unusual to see dozens of black guys, all around the same age, walking around with tents.
Yep, the migrants. They did obey the police. They left.
For a few hours.
By 9 p.m., they were setting up their tents in another small public park right across the former camp.
They are good neighbours. As far as I’m concerned, we have to welcome anyone who makes it that far and wants to stay. They’re young, motivated, resourceful. They are starting over. We have to help them, they ain’t gonna go any further.