02. What and where is Villa Biron?

Villa Biron is a residential building located in the city of Saint-Ouen, a city engulfed by the conurbation of Paris, the French capital. The area itself is a confluence of foreign-born populations who, for one reason or another, moved in the pursuit of bettering their life conditions. Initially it was an industrial area with poorly constructed houses, and it was mostly inhabited by Spanish and Italian immigrants[1], in 2013, over 26% of its population was foreign-born[2]; according to our interviewees who live there, a significant portion of the current population comes from areas in Africa that used to have colonial ties with France.

The building comprises two blocks of thirteen apartments each, all of its tenants are gender non-conforming people, who happened to gather there through their networks and complex histories of people whose lives have been marked by difficulties. It is different from what one’s common sense would define as a “refugee camp”, it does not reflect the idea of a group of precarious and ephemeral tents in a certain location, forced to be there because of war or hunger, as it is commonly mediatized. According to Malkki (1995), those who undergo a kind of forced migration represent just one aspect of the plethora of sociopolitical and cultural practices.[3] Those who live in Villa Biron can be considered refugees by the French authorities due to their health status or persecutions in their countries of departure.

All information gathered by us derives from our fieldwork, conducted on two different dates; we first met Giovanna, who has now been living in France for over 15 years, she first agreed to talk to us to get acquainted with the project we had in mind; subsequently she spoke to those who are, and were, related to the site, as to inquire whether they were willing to tell us a about their life stories and trajectories until their arrival at Villa Biron. We then met Giovanna in Paris and continued in Saint-Ouen on both the 30th of January 2017, and on March the 19th of the same year, we conducted semi-structured interviews with her and other dwellers linked both to her and Villa Biron. We spoke with Vania, Nathaly, Tabata, and Luna, who come from Peru; Our contact also put us in contact with Samantha, who is also from Brazil, but does not live in the camp anymore.

When one legally moves to France both parts sign a contract, being they the proprietary and the one renting the space, they need to have all the paperwork meeting standard requirements so that both parts do not go against the L622-1 of CESEDA[4], which is the French acronym for the Code of Entry and Residency of Foreigners and Asylum Seekers which states that a fine of 30 thousand euros to each and every person who facilitates either the entrance or residency of someone who’s illegally in France.

Normally it means having someone as the guarantor, meaning a person who often should be established in the Euro area and has the means to prove that he or she is supposed to guarantee that the rent is going to be paid in case the tenant fails to meet its legal duty. In the case of Villa Biron, according to our interviewees, the owner overlooks the need for a guarantor and verify who is living in the apartments as long as, at least one of the tenants, has a valid document to allow their residency in France, that and that they pay the initial bonding comprising of one or more months of rent in advance. Having the requirement of guarantor lifted, renting a place becomes easier.

A recurrent point in the story of those who live there was that they normally arrived brought by pimps who put them in overpriced hotels, so that they were living in unsanitary conditions and had to pay copious amounts of money for their housing, not to mention the exploitation and dangers they had to go through in order to make money to survive.

The building is known in the neighborhood because, according to Giovanna, it had been there for decades to house those who needed it, she herself arrived there because she met someone who had been living there and then this person eventually had to leave it, leaving her alone. Eventually one of her Brazilian friends, Samantha, decided to leave her country, and through their connection, she was then able to move in and have a place to stay until her situation became more stable, she eventually moved out, but Giovanna remained there and informed us about cases of people she knew who were murdered at the door, how people in the streets attacked her and her friends in the streets and how hostilities were recurrent inside and outside the building, mainly because of the way they identify themselves in a dissonant way from the majority of society, but also the means they find to provide for themselves in a world where they tend to be frowned upon for being different.

Throughout their trajectories it was important that they found a supportive network to help them to break through from their original points of departure and also one that eventually allowed them to move to another country across the ocean. By the means of their contacts with each other, Giovanna met one of the Peruvian girls, who eventually asked if she could bring another one, then another one, and then a third one, now the four of them share an apartment and its housing costs, from there they face together the precarious state of their present and how it affects the way they will move forward.

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References:

[1] Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme. Paris Ville Monde : La Cité aux Quartiers Multiculturels. Available at: http://www.tourisme93.com/paris-ville-monde.html

[2] L’Internaute. Population de Saint-Ouen (93400). available at: http://www.linternaute.com/ville/saint-ouen/ville-93070/demographie

[3] Malkki, L. (1995). Refugees and Exile: From “Refugee Studies” to the National Order of Things. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24, 495-523. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155947

[4]Perrigueur, Elisa (2009). Aider les sans-papiers, c’est interdit ?. La Depeche. Available at: http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2009/04/09/589821-aider-les-sans-papiers-c-est-interdit.html

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