The Paris school occupied by hundreds of migrants

Lycee Jean Quarre in Paris taken September 2015

The unauthorised occupation by migrants of a Paris secondary school is focusing minds on how the country will cope if the current inrush of asylum seekers accelerates.

The Lycee Jean Quarre in the multi-ethnic 19th arrondissement was taken over at the beginning of August. Today it houses around 300 asylum seekers and economic migrants mainly from Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are people who before were sleeping rough or in tents on the street.

The place is not exactly salubrious. The school had actually been decommissioned and was sitting empty. The building is in the main sound, but there are dripping ceilings and the electricity cuts out intermittently.

The migrants sleep on mattresses about 20 to a room. They do their best to keep it clean, but it is bare and dingy. Outside in the yard, the young men play basketball, football and cricket.

Calais route 'dangerous'

Tanguy Lyonnet of the collective La Chapelle en Lutte (The Struggle of La Chapelle) told me that there was a big turnover at the school. Few stay long.

"Some people move out to better accommodation provided by the official associations. Others want to move north - to Calais. But this we strongly advise against," he says.

Why? "Because the camp there is not safe; and because people get killed trying to cross to the UK."

This is interesting because it shows how the people who advise the migrants are unwittingly pursuing British policy by discouraging people from taking the Calais route.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some migrants in Paris are taking French language lessons

"But we are not doing it to help the British government," Mr Lyonnet makes clear. "We are doing it because it is what is best for the migrants."

Few of the people at the lycee speak any English. Fewer speak French, though lessons are being given. One group of Sudanese men was poring rather sadly over an exercise book full of conjugated verbs.

What struck me most though was how unenthused people were by their experience in France. A lot appeared to have bought into the "Home of Human Rights" idea of France, and now felt somewhat disabused.

Image caption Turnover of asylum seekers at the Lycee Jean Quarre is fast

A Sudanese man said: "I actually wanted to come to France, because I always liked the idea of France. But now I am here I have changed my mind."

For the city authorities, the school occupation was an embarrassment that they cleverly dispelled by claiming it was their idea all along. There is clearly no love lost between the politicians at City Hall and the activists on the ground who helped in the takeover.

But now it is a fait accompli, Paris says it will turn the school into a semi-permanent migrant centre. Money will be spent making the building more liveable.

"Our policy is to be pragmatic and humanist," the city's deputy mayor Dominique Versini told me.

"So far I would say we have succeeded, but how things will be in three, four or six months - who can say? The problem is still ahead of us."