Close to 500 refugees are stranded in a public park in Nantes, France. They are currently living in tents, after they were expelled from an abandoned house by French authorities. As reported by RT, doctors are warning of epidemics. Locals are also concerned about the refugees’ presence.
The refugees are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. The biggest current concern is related to sanitation – the camp has one toilet and water tank to service all 500 of them. RT has interviewed refugees as well as residents. One of the refugees, identified as Mohammed is quoted “We’re lost, hopeless. There’s a problem with finding somewhere to live, and food. We don’t sleep well, it’s tiresome.” The locals are more worried that it brings Nantes a negative image, rather than for the well-being of the refugees, as it becomes apparent from the comments of a local woman, also interviewed by RT – “It’s very negative for Nantes, just like for every city where they settled. It’s a very bad sign for locals and tourists.”
Furthermore, in Nantes, on July 3rd riots were sparked after police shot and killed a 22-year-old male driver. On the evening of July 3rd, a young man identified by the French newspaper Le Monde as Aboubakar Fofana was pulled over by police in Breil. It is still unclear what exactly happened, however police have told reporters that they have received orders to bring the driver into the station because his “identity was not clear,” as France24 reports. Later authorities claimed that the man was wanted for robbery and involvement in other crimes in another city.
Allegedly trying to escape Aboubakar Fofana tried to reverse his car, hitting a police officer in the knee. At that point, another officer opened fire, shooting and killing the driver. An alleged bystander was quoted by Gulf Today as having said “there were no police behind the car, he didn’t hit anyone. There was only the one gunshot.” The car he was driving, had been flagged as a vehicle suspected of being used for drug dealing and had put under police surveillance, according to French media, Express reports. A silent march was planned Thursday over his death.
The week before that a 16-year-old girl was wounded by gunshots fired at a building in Breil, which led to increased police surveillance of the area. Breil is one of many neighborhoods in France which house many immigrant and minority communities. French newspapers describe them as “sensitive” neighborhoods, an official term used by the French government to refer to areas in need of social investment, but used more colloquially by people to refer to areas they see as prone to instability or crime, as reported by SFGate.
What followed on the night of July 4th were riots that lasted until early morning. The result was burned-out cars, smashed bus shelters and shattered store fronts: recurrent symbols of the country’s struggles with policing in minority neighborhoods. The protests lasted until Saturday, July 7th. On the second day gangs of masked men, armed with petrol bombs, took to the streets and torched at least 30 cars amid running battles with 200 riot police. The third and fourth nights differed little as the destruction that was caused by rioters surprised and frightened many of the residents of Nantes, Telesur reports.
Finally, early Sunday, July 8th, a relative calm could be sensed and seen in the city. Expatica reports that the nightly violence began to ease Friday after the officer was charged, while police said 18 vehicles were burned and no arrests were made early Sunday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has promised “the fullest transparency” in investigating the circumstances of Fofana’s death, amid concerns the unrest could spread.
The police officer that shot and killed Aboubakar has been charged with manslaughter, after confessing to falsely claiming self-defense. He claimed that he had fired accidentally while reaching through the car window to try to fight for control of the vehicle. Residents who were nearby dismiss this version of events, as Expatica reports.
Loic Bourgeois, a lawyer for Fofana’s mother and sister, spoke in front of AFP that on July 9th they would file a civil lawsuit against the officer.
SFGate also reports that the incident in Nantes comes amid a debate around the use of firearms by French policemen. In February 2017, after a spate in terrorist attacks a bill was passed that allowed for more lenient dispatching of firearms by police officers. SFGate cites figures that were released in June 2018 showing an increase in usage of firearms by French police officers. According to the figures the number of times police have used their service weapons has increased by 54 from 2016 to 2017, while the number of investigations launched against officers accused of violence has rose from 543 to 576 cases, as reported by the Local.
Expatica also reports that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has promised “the fullest transparency” in investigating the circumstances of Fofana’s death.