According to the latest estimates from the Interministerial Delegation for Housing and Access to Housing (DIHAL), 16 080 people were living in squats and slums in France. This inventory, published in July 2018, records that the Île de France region has the largest number of people living in slums, with 5 357 people living in 93 sites. Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne are the first and sixth departments with the largest number of people in squats and slums.
These populations are marginalized and have limited access to basic services, including fundamental rights such as access to water, hygiene or health. Residents suffer from frequent evictions and have difficulty accessing information and mechanisms to assert their rights. Still according to the DIHAL, two thirds of the populations living in squats and slums in France had no access to drinking water, three quarters of the slums had no electricity supply and half of them had no waste treatment, even though the municipalities are responsible for the sanitation of their territory.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its different waves that have affected France have only worsened the situation of the most precarious. In addition to the cumulative health risks, mental health problems linked to the anxiety-inducing context were added: lockdowns, restrictions on movement, risks of contamination, lack of access to information or to health professionals, etc. Marginalized populations have lacked information and resources to cover their basic needs. In addition, the pandemic has led to the displacement of populations, followed by the destruction of their living quarters, which has modified the map of the slums and dispersed the populations into more fragmented living quarters. In a deteriorated social and health context, Première Urgence Internationale has adapted its activities to provide an emergency response to the populations of squats and slums.
Description of the mission
Première Urgence Internationale has been conducting health mediation activities since 2012 in the Île-de-France region, mainly in the departments of Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne. These actions bring together the largest number of people living in squats and slums. Health mediation aims to improve access to rights, prevention and care for people who are far from the health system, taking into account their specific needs.
In addition, the NGO also accompanies people in exile to help them in their social and professional integration.
Premiere Urgence Internationale in action
Première Urgence Internationale considers health as a global situation of mental and physical well-being and addresses the issues of inclusion and physical and mental health as a whole. The integration center offers French language learning programs, complemented by legal services and health promotion and prevention activities, including psychosocial follow-up and social support. In the squats and slums, the NGO also works on health promotion and accompanies the populations in their health care and administrative procedures in order to open up their health care rights.
During the first phase of COVID-19, Première Urgence Internationale developed its “outreach” activities: the mobile teams set up and carried out awareness-raising and orientation activities while distributing hygiene kits to families in squats and slums. The NGO also ensured access to drinking water in eight living areas. It then repeated its emergency activities during the second lockdown, while resuming its health mediation activities and conducting a needs assessment in the new living areas. Mental health and psychosocial support activities were developed.
Today, Première Urgence Internationale is developing a global health approach, closely linked to social inclusion, based on the observation that the state of physical and mental health of individuals influences the chances of success of a social and professional integration process.
France: Mental health at the heart of the mission’s interventions
The France mission of première Urgence Internationale integrates mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in all its actions through individual or group accompaniment, in the integration center or in the beneficiaries’ living areas.