Over the past decade, Europe has become a hub for migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and unrest. Selling most if not all of their personal belongings, families leave their homes behind with eyes set on safer borders in Europe. France is among the most popular nations to settle in — during 2020 alone, 87,659 people applied for asylum in France. For those who do survive the journey, which includes walking, hitchhiking and overcrowded boats, new challenges await. Although the poverty rate in France stood at 14.8% in 2018, refugees and asylum seekers face disproportionately higher rates of poverty. When they first arrive in France, many of these families end up in tents and shanty settlements with little access to clean water and food. However, several programs aim to support refugees in France.
5 Programs Supporting Refugees in France
- French Refugee Council (FRC). Founded in 2013, the FRC is an independent NGO providing practical support to refugees in France with the objective of helping them rebuild their lives. FRC staff work directly with refugees by facilitating access to education, job opportunities and legal assistance. The organization hosts several programs, including integration workshops focused on equipping migrants with the skills needed to become “a productive part of the host society.” Refugees learn bout the “French job market and workplace culture” while receiving French language lessons. The FRC’s Teach a Refugee Program aims to “connect local citizens with asylum seekers and refugees through language classes.” Since 2016, 863 immigrants have benefited from this program, which aims to break the language and cultural gaps between immigrants and locals. The FRC also helps refugees who may have already obtained vocational qualifications by working to validate any existing degrees and work experience.
- Refugee Food Festival. In partnership with the city of Paris and the UNHCR, the nonprofit Food Sweet Food hosts the festival annually in June around the time of World Refugee Day (June 20). Food Sweet Food works with local restaurants in the city to open their kitchens and change their menus to local dishes prepared by refugee chefs. The public then receives an invitation to these restaurants to engage with the cuisine and people. Food Sweet Food sees cuisine as a way to bridge gaps and bring diverse communities together — the objective of this festival is to create an environment to change cultural perceptions, create dialogue and facilitate refugee integration. Since its beginning in 2016, the Refugee Food Festival has seen chefs from Ivory Coast, Iraq, Syria and more. Other European cities also welcome the event. The Refugee Food Festival has seen engagement from more than 116,000 citizens and 239 chefs in 19 cities.
- Doctors Without Borders. Well known for providing medical care to those who lack access across the globe, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is also active in France, specifically targeting unaccompanied minors. MSF works to provide legal, medical and other support to minors who are unable to successfully apply for child protection. Many young refugees find themselves extremely vulnerable, especially with regards to finding accommodation. To remedy this, MSF offers unaccompanied minors nightly emergency accommodation in Paris and Marseille, hosting up to 150 minors a night. Additionally, MSF makes its regular mobile health clinics available to “migrants of all ages in Paris.” In 2019 alone, “734 minors benefited from [MSF’s] services.”
- Comede. Formally known as the “Committee for the health of exiles,” Amnesty International, Cimade and Groupe Accueil Solidarité established Comede in 1979 to safeguard the health and rights of “refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied foreign minors,and other immigrants/foreigners” in France. Comede offers medical, psychological, social and legal care to these vulnerable groups with the aim of helping them increase their autonomy. Comede operates hotlines to connect individuals with any services that they might need when they first arrive in France. Utilizing hotlines and working alongside lawyers, health service providers and social workers, Comede has helped more than 100,000 people since its founding in 1979.
- The Salvation Army. With an active presence in more than 130 countries, the Salvation Army is one the largest charity organizations in the world. “A joint project between Paris and neighboring Saint-Denis,” the Salvation Army-run drop-in center is open to all migrants and refugees every day of the week. Opened in 2019, the center aims to assist the growing number of refugees who find themselves in shanty settlements when they arrive in France. The center provides showers, a charging station, washing machines and sleeping quarters. Refugees can also find free breakfast at another center nearby. The drop-in center also hosts French classes, and with 2,000 square meters of space, it has the capacity to hold 70 people but often sees visitors in the hundreds.
Journeying thousands of miles in unsafe conditions in search of a better life, refugees find new challenges waiting for them when they arrive in Europe. These five organizations try to address the many facets of integrating and starting a life in a new society.
– Owen Mutiganda