Another Paris fire kills seven African immigrants

30th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 30 (AFP) - A blaze in a rundown building housing African immigrants in Paris -- the second in four days -- killed seven people overnight, officials said Tuesday, deepening a sense of shock over the plight of France's impoverished non-citizens.

PARIS, Aug 30 (AFP) - A blaze in a rundown building housing African immigrants in Paris -- the second in four days -- killed seven people overnight, officials said Tuesday, deepening a sense of shock over the plight of France's impoverished non-citizens.

Officials said four children and three adults died after the blaze broke out in the stairwell of the dilapidated five-storey tenement they were squatting.

The fire occurred in the Marais, a historic central district popular with tourists, at 10pm Monday.

Fourteen people were also injured, three of them seriously, in the blaze that swept through a squat in a dilapidated building.

French President Jacques Chirac Tuesday ordered an inquiry into this latest blaze.

In a statement in which he expressed his "saddest condolences" to the families of the victims, Chirac said: "I have asked the services in charge of the investigation to diligently determine the exact circumstance of this drama."

The fire started at around 10pm in the stairwell of the five-storey building, a squat ready for renovation that housed Africans, the fire service said. It was brought under control an hour and a half later and its cause was being investigated, officers said.

One of the children died from injuries early Tuesday after jumping from a fourth-floor window, firefighters said.

"I heard an explosion, then I saw the flames and heard the screams," said a survivor with a baby in her arms who gave her name as Karamoko.

"The fire raced to the top. On the fourth floor, there were pregnant women. One threw her six-year-old child out the window. After, I saw a man rush through a window and splat below," she said.

Another woman, Tata, said she saw her husband jump, naked, from the first floor. He was taken to hospital suffering burns and other injuries.

The mayor of the 13ème arrondissement where the fire occurred, Pierre Aidenbaum, said 12 families comprising 40 illegal immigrants from Ivory Coast had been living in the building, which was owned by the municipality and scheduled to be entirely renovated.

"For years people had been saying the living conditions there were dreadful," he said.

More than 100 firefighters battled for an hour and a half to extinguish the flames, which police said they believed were caused by faulty wiring apparently installed by the residents themselves.

The street in front of the building was blocked off on Tuesday as police and municipal authorities tried to calm the distraught residents, who insisted on staying in front of the premises until new lodgings were found. Some of the women sat on the ground, tears rolling down their faces.

The Ivory Coast ambassador to France, Yacinthe Kouassi, said he was "shocked" by the fire and called on French authorities to give residency papers to immigrants.

"I appeal to them, as a cry from the heart: All this has to stop and they have to see how they can give papers to people," Kouassi said.

Civil rights groups called demonstrations to push the same demand and to call for decent lodgings for immigrants.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë visited the survivors, who were initially taken to a nearby hotel, and said the city had "a very serious problem with insalubrious buildings" recalling that municipal services had found around 1,000 of them at the beginning of his mandate.

Delanoë called for authorities in surrounding regions and the nation as a whole to become aware of the problem and for those sheltering fewer poor people to help shoulder the burden.

Chirac said the government would "make strong initiatives very soon" to avoid similar blazes in the future.

The tragedy came after a very similar fire last Friday in a rundown apartment block in the city's southeast in which 14 children and three adults, also African immigrants, died. The cause of that blaze is being probed.

In April, another blaze raced through a dingy hotel close to the old opera and the main department stores, killing 24 Africans. That fire was allegedly started by the girlfriend of the supervisor lighting candles in his apartment.

The series of blazes has drawn national attention to the sometimes desperate living conditions of African immigrants in France.

With the public's attention focused on the fires and the debate it has engendered, Socialist municipal authorities and members of Chirac's ruling conservative party sought to pass the blame to each other.

Claude Goasguen and Philippe Goujon, two senior officials of Chirac's UMP party for the Paris region, said in a statement: "The welfare accommodation policy of the City of Paris, which refuses to build new low-cost housing, has reached its limits."

At the same time, authorities were making extraordinary efforts to find new lodgings for those who survived the two latest fires. Some of the immigrants had been waiting more than 10 years for a subsidised home.

The 12 families, totalling about 40 people, were to have been rehoused in September so that the building could be renovated.

Delanoë's deputy, Yves Contassor of the Green party, said some of the people in the building, who did not have residence documents, had not been offered new accommodation pending the renovation work.

"We must get away from this, stop treating people like in the 18th century," he said.

Contassor said the building did not have running water, and the residents had to use a standpipe in the street.

Réné Dutrey, chairman of the semu-public company SIEMP that owns the building, described it as one of the 423 worst insalubrious buildings in the capital.

"The question is not of money but the offer of homes. As long as the offer of lodgings is not there, we will be obliged to pick up the people who burn in buildings," Dutrey added.

Jean-Baptiste Eyraud, chairman of the pressure group Right to Homes (DAL), went to the scene of the blaze and announced a demonstration in Paris Saturday in support of the homeless and those living in poor conditions.

Bambaya Coumba, an Ivorian who lived in the ravaged building, was returning home when he saw the flames and people jumping from the windows.

"We had been talking a lot about (Friday's) fire in the 13ème arrondissement, we were very frightened because our building was in poor shape," he told AFP. "We were still discussing it today."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, fire, fatality, Paris, low-cost housing, subsidized housing, immigrant, Delanoë, Chirac, Marais, SIEMP, DAL

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