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Parisians Struggle To Find Homes For Newly Arriving Refugees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Europeans are divided about the refugees and migrants who continue arriving from the Middle East and Africa. And that divide is visible in France. A nationalist political party has been gaining support. At the same time, people in Paris are offering to help new arrivals. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Earlier this month, Paris police rounded up nearly 4,000 migrants who were living on the street, camped under a metro trellis in the north of the city. They were packed into 80 buses and moved to centers around France. But with nearly a hundred more arriving daily, the camps return. Many Parisians have been handing out blankets and serving meals on the streets. Some go even further to help.

MARION CHABREL: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Thirty-seven-year-old Marion Chabrel lives with her dog, Benny, in a cozy apartment in a working-class Paris neighborhood. Chabrel sells shoes and was on a business trip last spring when she decided to visit the squalid migrant encampment in the northern port city of Calais. The Calais camp has since been torn down, and many of the migrants living there came to Paris.

CHABREL: I was in a great hotel room just near Calais. And I watched this program on TV, and I just thought - you know, my dog was sitting on my four-star hotel seeing those people, like, being in trouble - big trouble. I just thought, it was not possible just to stay there and not doing anything.

BEARDSLEY: Chabrel met 25-year-old Shabada in the Calais camp. He, like many Afghans, only goes by one name. The two became friends. Shabada describes the hell he endured for six months in Calais.

SHABADA: Fighting police every time, guys - no like.

CHABREL: I realized the first world he knew in French was degage, which means go the - away. And I was - oh - really surprised he knew this word, so I asked him how. And he said the police - degage. I was really shocked - welcome en France.

BEARDSLEY: Shabada is now staying in Chabrel's flat. She's also helping with his asylum request papers. She says the biggest issue for her was feeling safe, but she felt she could trust him.

Still, Chabrel wanted to do more, so she went on Facebook and contacted an organization called Refugies Bienvenue, or welcome, which helps place people waiting for answers to their asylum requests in individual homes. Today, the group's coordinator, Victoire Beauvais (ph), came for breakfast at Chabrel's apartment.

VICTOIRE BEAUVAIS: I'm Parisian, born and raised in Paris. So I saw my city changing.

BEARDSLEY: Beauvais wanted to do something, so she joined the organization, which is run by students from the Sorbonne University. She says, in just a year of existence, they've matched up about 120 asylum-seekers with Parisians ready to host them. Today, she's introducing Chabrel to Brahim, a gay man from Bangladesh who fled persecution and fears giving his last name.

BRAHIM: Yeah, yeah.

BEAUVAIS: Move in...

BRAHIM: (Unintelligible) move in.

BEARDSLEY: Beauvais shows them the moral contract they will both sign before he moves in. It lays out the rules of the house and mentions any specific requirements of either party.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: Chabrel says she's happy her two new roommates can communicate together in Hindi. They say Chabrel has changed their lives.

SHABADA: Now like - no me stay here, yeah.

CHABREL: Yeah? Now you like?

SHABADA: Now like, yeah.

CHABREL: Because of me, you like France now?

SHABADA: Yeah.

CHABREL: Yeah?

SHABADA: Now, yeah.

CHABREL: (Laughter).

SHABADA: Too much like (laughter).

BEARDSLEY: OK - un, deux, trois.

The three pose for a picture with Marion in the middle. She fondly refers to Brahim and Shabada as her roommates and bodyguards.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED SNAPPER'S "ARCHOUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.