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World Refugee Day 2019: Paris council opens new solidarity centre

media This fresco in tribute to the NGO SOS Méditerrranée on the Champ de Mars, in Paris was designed by the French artist Saype. Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

Paris town hall is inaugurating the House for Refugees in the 14th district of the capital Paris to mark World Refugee Day. The centre will be a place where newcomers can get useful information to help them fit in to French life.

The new day centre will "symbolise Paris' desire to distinguish itself as a place of refuge" and a "reference point" where migrants will receive "quality information", according to Dominique Versini, deputy secretary for Solidarity for the Paris town hall, speaking at a public meeting in April.

Versini told Liberation newspaper in June that between 2015 and 2018, 8,500 people were given the status of refugee in Paris, but to get to that stage, it is often difficult for people to find information on the procedures to follow in order to get refugee status.

That's where the new centre comes in. Open seven days a week, the 800 square metre venue will host health counselling, a café, IT workshops, a library and conversation sessions, open to both refugees and locals alike.

After initially opening in the 14th, it is due to move to another location in the 19th district in the coming months.

Fresco for solidarity

Last weekend, a giant fresco showing joined hands was unveiled at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in support of SOS Méditerrranée, a charity which rescues migrants. Over 50 non-profit organisations gathered to show their support for people forced to flee their homes, just ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June.

The 15,000 square metre image of hands clasped together, designed by the French artist Saype, spans the length of the Champs de Mars concourse.

Using a database of photographs of hands of people ranging from celebrities, to politicians and ordinary citizens, the artwork "Beyond Walls" represents hands reaching in a gesture of help.

Artwork by French artist Saype, at the Champs de Mars in Paris, showing hands reaching out to help migrants REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

SOS Méditerranée which runs the Aquarius rescue ship, has since March 2016, rescued nearly 30,000 people in trouble, but its activities have been suspended for administrative and judicial reasons.

After France, the artwork will travel to some 20 cities around the world including Geneva, Berlin, New York and Nairobi.

Dancing, debates, children's activities

Meanwhile, for the second edition of the event on Saturday, organised by the Paris town hall, there were numerous stands, round table debates and activities for young people.

"We organised this outdoor event to show that we can have fun and still show solidarity with the integration process," says Hugo Repeto from the charity France Terre d'asile, gesturing towards a group of visiting capoeira dancers.

"The idea is to show we can work together in favour of inclusion, integration."

Another group is made up of young people in exile, trained in the martial art of kuan kido by the Kaolia organisation.

Their trainer says it helps young people regain confidence after making such long journeys.

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