Before the Taliban forced him to flee Afghanistan, Younis exported flowers to the United Arab Emirates and China.
The 30-year-old crossed Iran, Turkey and much of Europe before arriving in Paris a month ago, a brutal journey that left him with a discolored lesion on his ankle and a swollen leg. After weeks living on the banks of the Seine, Younis – who gave only his first name because his asylum application is still being processed – now sleeps in a former Paris high school that has been empty for four years, one of about 200 migrants living there.
Paris is turning a blind eye to humanitarian groups converting abandoned public buildings like the school into migrant centers, recognizing that the 1,000 official emergency housing spots Paris has created since June are not enough to shelter all migrants left without a roof, Paris’ deputy mayor, Bruno Julliard, told French radio.
The school’s classrooms are lined with sleeping bags atop makeshift cardboard mattresses. Migrants drink instant coffee and eat goulash concocted from donated ingredients. It’s bare-bones, but migrants, activists and many city officials agree it’s better than being on the streets.
The asphalt courtyard echoes with myriad languages as migrants kick soccer balls, play cards, or paint murals on the school’s peeling walls. Younis studies, writing French in meticulous cursive next to translations in his native Dari. The alphabet is different and the sounds are foreign, but he said the real challenge is that “I don’t have a job or a place to stay, I can’t read, I can’t focus.”