Migrant Lives

Calais To Paris, The Grim Mobility Of Migrant "Jungles"

Near the French capital's Gare du Nord train station, migrants have expanded yet another shantytown just days after the controversial Calais "Jungle" was dismantled by the state. Locals are not pleased.

Migrant camp in Stalingrad, Paris on Oct. 31
Migrant camp in Stalingrad, Paris on Oct. 31
Delphine de Mallevoüe

PARIS â€" Here and there, the sound of zippers breaks the morning quiet, as still disheveled heads and bleary faces emerge from tents. A mirror that someone had found is placed against a tree, and people start to wash, as this makeshift camp comes to life.

It is already more crowded than the night before, with additional stretched tarpaulins, trash and laundry lines weighed down with drying garments. The pervasive stench of urine and human excrement hangs over everything.

Welcome to France's latest "Jungle" of displaced undocumented immigrants: an expansive triangle of land that extends out from the Stalingrad metro station in northeast Paris. Most of those in the camp are reluctant to say whether or not they came from Calais, the French city on the English Channel where migrants had amassed in recent years in the original "Jungle," in the hope of crossing into Britain.

The French government's decision last week to dismantle the camp in Calais forced most of the migrants into special Reception and Orientation centers across France, and those who refused to board buses to those centers are "afraid of being identified and arrested by police," says Ahmed, a Sudanese living under the rail overpass at Stalingrad.

One more try

Still, Azlan, a 27-year-old Afghan, readily admits that he "arrived with two friends after the "Jungle" was evacuated." The three young men bought bus tickets in Calais for the capital, where smuggler networks are actively present unlike in the government-run centers, often located in smaller towns and villages. In the capital, Azlan and his friends will look for another attempt to reach the UK.

Paris already had its own fair share of undocumented migrants, but the situation has gotten worse over the last week in the capital, say shopkeepers and residents along the Avenue de Flandres. Paris city officials says some 2,000-2,500 migrants, mostly Sudanese, Eritreans, Afghans and Libyans, are in this encampment. Though the authorities won't confirm that anyone from Calais has come to Paris, local residents insist that there is a substantial "overflow effect."

Faisal, a Pakistani who owns a clothes shop on the Avenue de Flandres, says the situation deteriorated in the past week: "Business in the neighborhood is dead. People lock themselves up at home and don't even want to go out to buy bread," he says. "A few more weeks like this and I'll have to close down."

Faisal says he has "nothing against these poor people," but "won't tolerate the attacks and thefts" he attributes to them. France is good to these people, says Faisal. "So the least they can do is respect its laws, citizens and shopkeepers," he adds.

Véronique, a longstanding resident of the neighborhood, says she's disgusted. The 63-year-old, who supports France's ruling center-left government, insists she "won't be had this time" over the immigrant issue: "We're struggling with our own misery. So why pile more onto us with this camp?"

The dismantling of the Paris camp is scheduled for this week, authorities say. The city says it is readying a humanitarian reception center with 400 beds in northern Paris, though the mayor's office has pointed out that all the space is already reserved, with no more available for migrants already at Stalingrad.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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