More than 200 migrant children endure the squalor of their makeshift camp under a bridge spanning the Seine River in southern Paris
Abandoned in the cold and rain, with no drinking water or electricity, the children living in the Ivry-sur-Seine area talk about the tough conditions that led them to their current situation.
The young people, between 14 and 19 years of age, fled their countries and are now thousands of kilometers from their families, having risked everything in search of a better life.
That was their hope when they fled their homes in Cameroon, Senegal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Gambia due to war and violence.
But the reality they found in France turned out to be quite different.
Keeping hope alive
One Afghan teen, identified only as Sami, told Anadolu Agency that he has been in France for two months.
The 17-year-old reached France after passing through Pakistan, Iran, Türkiye, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland.
Having spent more than one year wandering, sometimes at the risk of his life, he ended up in France sleeping under the bridge with only a tent provided by an association separating him from the elements.
His only material possessions are some clothes and a mobile phone.
The summer has now come to an end, giving way to the rainy season and cold weather in the French capital.
Sami does not complain, preferring to keep hope and the vitality of his youth alive to overcome difficulties and move toward his dream.
But he recognizes that it may not be a simple task.
"The conditions are quite difficult, it's cold, and at night it's even colder. We have no drinking water, nothing to eat. It's quite difficult," he said.
Sami has no official status in France. He is neither an adult nor a minor, meaning he has no rights and no access to state aid.
He cannot study, work or look for accommodations.
Lack of status, lack of rights
Sami is one of the thousands of unaccompanied minors living in France, facing hardships in their quest for a better life and recognition of their fundamental rights.
A member of the Utopia 56 exile support association, interviewed by Anadolu Agency, criticized the response of the government, which he said has chosen "not to recognize these adolescents who are already traumatized."
"We try to give them all the support we can, but the state doesn't make it easy for us. With a harsh policy in place, we're forced to change the location of the camp regularly to escape police harassment. The young migrants' rights are not respected. No access to school, work, or housing. It's really a serious matter," he said.
Last May, the association set up a camp at Place de la Bastille, in the heart of Paris, to show the fate of unaccompanied minors.
Among the 500 young people, around 65% were identified as unaccompanied minors in 2021, having already spent several months on the street, according to the group.
"These young people can spend several months, sometimes a year or more, on the street, before their rights are recognized," said one member.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have pronounced that if a person says they are an isolated minor, they must be presumed as such until French authorities can verify the claim.
Despite this, Utopia 56 accuses the government of a "flagrant violation of international legislation and human rights."
Dreams on hold
Sendou, 16, from the West African country of Gambia, said he arrived in Paris one month ago with a dream to become a football player. He is confident in his talents as a defensive midfielder.
He made the perilous journey through the Sahel region, plagued by terrorism and inter-communal violence, to reach the Mediterranean Sea, before arriving in Europe.
"We were more than 60 people on an inflatable boat from Morocco to Spain, including women and children," he said.
Asked what he intended to do in France, Sendou seemed aware of the grim reality.
"With the situation you see here, sleeping under a bridge, in the cold, without water, without anything to eat, I'm going to have to put my dreams aside. I wanted to become a football player," he said.
With no recognition of his status as a minor, Sendou feels he needs to seek undocumented work in construction or related fields to lighten his misery.
While previously unaware of a recently announced immigration bill meant to regularize undocumented migrants, Sendou saw a glimmer of hope in its measures that would allow him to obtain papers to work in sectors with a shortage in labor, such as construction or catering.
"It's difficult to come to a country, where you don't know anyone, no family, no friends. I came here to have my status recognized as a minor, which will probably be rejected. So, such an alternative would be welcome," he said.
*Translated by James Tasamba in Kigali, Rwanda
Source: Anadolu Agency