Podcast : Evicted for Glory — The Paris Olympics

By and Wesley Sprouse

June 27, 2024

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(PARIS) – As the global spotlight shines on Paris for the 2024 Olympic Games, the world anticipates a spectacle of athletic prowess and international unity. However, beneath the surface lies an often overlooked narrative: the stories of those marginalized and displaced by the pursuit of sporting glory.

Join us, Félicie Jungels and Wes Sprouse, as we delve into the untold realities of the upcoming Paris Olympics and shed light on the communities overlooked amidst the fervor of competition. We’re talking about how the Olympics exacerbate the housing crisis, displacing students from government housing, relocating refugees, and deporting sex workers — all of which magnify the city’s housing inequality.

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Transcript

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Wes Sprouse: The Olympics are an exhibit and a celebration of human achievement. They bring together nations in the spirit of competition and camaraderie. 

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And the nation hosting the games — they take center stage, while the people who live there are put under a microscope. As the world’s attention turns to Paris for the 2024 Games, dark stories are unfolding about how Parisians are being impacted by the games. 

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Wes Sprouse: I’m Wes–

Félicie Jungels: and I’m Félicie, and in this podcast, we’re looking at the people left behind by the games. 

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Wes Sprouse:  The Paris Olympics are shedding light on more than athleticism this year — they’re exposing concerns about human rights infractions and housing inequality in Paris. Félicie heard rumors of people being displaced from their homes, so she decided to dig deeper. We teamed up and our investigation led us to Jeyna. 

Félicie Jungels: She is one of around 3,000 students who must give up their apartment for the Olympics. She lives in student housing that is owned by the government and managed by a government housing contractor known as CROUS.  

Wes Sprouse: The government has asked CROUS to supply 3,263 apartments for civil servants working the Olympics this summer, forcing students like Jeyna out of their apartments. In response, the students have created their own organization to protest the moves,  La Rescrous.

<<ARCHIVAL TAPE: La Rescrous protest on April 6th 2024. >>

Jeyna:  I’m a student in political science.

Félicie Jungels: Jeyna is 21 years old and has been living in this apartment for 2 years. 

Jeyna:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: “I first learned of this through social media, on X,” says Jeyna. Shortly after, on May 24, 2023, she received an email that states, “Like all public stakeholders in the Ile-de-France region, your CROUS is mobilized for the success of the major event that constitutes the Paris 2024 Games.”

Wes Sprouse:  That email outlines a plan: each student will be relocated to other CROUS locations and can get their apartment back on September 1st. They would also receive a financial aid of $100 and free tickets for the Olympics. 

Jeyna:  [French]

Félicie Jungels:  “Those two tickets for the Olympics, it’s a way of calming us, of consoling us in this ordeal,” she says. As for the $100… 

Jeyna:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: “We know full well it’s not enough,” she says. 

Wes Sprouse: Moving comes at a cost, and the students know that $100 won’t cover the cost to move out of their current apartments into the new one and then back into their old apartments in September. 

Félicie Jungels: Jeyna shares that communication with the organization hasn’t been simple. In order to ask a question you must submit an email, which rarely gets answered, or talk to the front desk of your building, but they don’t always know the answers. 

Jeyna:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: “The secretary made it clear to me that the longer I delayed leaving, the lower my chances were to be placed in an accommodation nearby,” says Jeyna. 

Jeyna:  [French]

Wes Sprouse: That clearly amplifies the students’ uncertainty and fear, but it doesn’t change the fact that moving now isn’t possible for all students. Many are about to enter exam periods.

Jeyna:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: While speaking with Jeyna, it was clear that she seemed nervous, frustrated, offended, even, at how the events had unfolded. But Jeyna wants to make one thing clear: La Rescrous is not against the Olympics. It’s simply against the way it has been organized, leaving lower-income students behind. 

<<ARCHIVAL TAPE: La Rescrous protest on April 6th 2024 >>

<<MUSIC IN HERE>>

Wes Sprouse: Other communities in Paris are also feeling the impacts of preparations for the Olympics. Félicie interviewed a spokesperson for Le Revers de la Médaille. Pardon my French, Félicie.

Félicie Jungels: You’re doing great, Wes! It means the “other side of the medal.” 

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Wes Sprouse: It is an organization regrouping 90 nonprofits that work with people living in precarious situations like refugees, sex workers, people with substance use disorder, and people experiencing homelessness. With what they’re witnessing in the last year, they’re raising the alarm for what they are calling “social cleansing.” 

Aurélie Huot: [French]

Félicie Jungels:  Aurélie explains that these 90 organizations banded together because they all started to notice an increase in public evacuations and police harassment.

Wes Sprouse: The organization she is a part of is the Barreau de Paris, a group of lawyers who volunteer their services to people in need. In the last few months, she’s witnessed multiple incidents of human rights violations. First, there’s the deportation of sex workers in the Bois de Vincennes. It’s a green space right outside of Paris that becomes a hub for prostitution at night. 

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels:  “Women in prostitution in Vincennes are, for the most part, victims of trafficking,” she says. Aurélie shares that for the last 9 months, the police have been increasing patrols in the area and deporting undocumented sex workers. 

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: The women no longer come during her organization’s service hours, a trust that took years to build, as they are afraid of police checks. 

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: “They are seen as foreigners instead of victims,” she says. 

Wes Sprouse: And the impact of that: they no longer call the police if they’re assaulted. Instead of treating them as illegal immigrants, Aurélie believes they should be protected as victims of sex trafficking. But my question is, Félicie, how do we know that these deportations are in any way related to the Olympic games?

Félicie Jungels: Well, here’s the thing, Wes, with the Olympics coming up, a lot of social issues in France have been tied back to the game, that don’t always actually relate, but it helps boost it in the media. It’s like “Olympics bashing.” So, I wondered the same thing, and I asked her about it.

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: Aurélie does a lot of work on the ground, in the Bois de Vincennes, working directly with those affected by the deportations. According to her, police officers have shared that the park may be used for military camps to ensure security during the games. Aurélie knows that this information would. of course, never be written down or publicly spoken about, but as someone on the field, she often hears rumors just like these. 

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Félicie Jungels:  The day I spoke to Aurélie, on April 17th, a squat in Vitry-Sur-Seine, a town southeast of Paris, was dismantled. That’s 450 people whose roofs got removed from over their heads. 

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There had been rumblings that this would happen for weeks, but neither organizations nor habitants were warned of exactly when they would occur. Aurélie was there that morning to assist as best she could. 

Aurélie Huot:   [French]

Félicie Jungels: “Most of them were refugees and employed. There were families with children in school, and for the most part, they were documented,” she says. 

Wes Sprouse:  That squat had been operating undisturbed for 3 years, and like most squats that have been evacuated in the last months, Aurélie sees a direct link to the Olympics.

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: According to Aurélie, public authorities she spoke with on the day of the expulsions told her that police forces needed to be mobilized for the Olympics and would no longer be available during or for a while after. Essentially, they’re “handling” all of their issues now.

Le Revers de la Médaille believes that the expulsions are happening to “clean up Paris” ahead of all the public attention. Aurélie highlights that, obviously, the organization doesn’t believe that people should be left to live in the streets or in makeshift camps, but the ways in which government organizations have treated these people are deliberately hurtful. 

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels:  “We asked that a social diagnosis be done sufficiently in advance to identify each person, and that each person have an accommodation proposal that corresponds to their situation,” she explains.

Wes Sprouse: Except that survey never happened. And because nobody was notified when the expulsions would occur, the organizations weren’t able to provide translators for non-French speaking refugees. 

Félicie Jungels:  According to Aurélie, ahead of the expulsions, 200 people had already vacated the area. The remaining 250 were to be dispersed in different regions: Bordeaux in the southwest coast of France and Orléans, a city 120 km southwest of Paris. But the choice was not up to them. 

Wes Sprouse: For people who have jobs, school, or training in Paris, choosing to take the offer would displace them too far away.

Félicie Jungels:  And just like the students of La Rescrous, Aurélie clarifies that Le Revers de La Medaille doesn’t want to bash the Olympics. 

Aurélie Huot:  [French]

Félicie Jungels: They just want the party to be beautiful for everyone: for sports fans, athletes, tourists, but also for people who are in public spaces and who are the most excluded. 

Wes Sprouse:  France is not the only country to have recently hosted the games while human rights violations are being discovered within its borders.  

In the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics, it was reported by The Council On Foreign Relations, an American think tank and non-profit, that “more than a million Muslims were being arbitrarily detained and held in reeducation camps; the majority of whom were ethnic Uyghur, detained in China’s Xinjiang region since 2017.” Yet, the games went on. 

Félicie Jungels:  The ramifications of hosting the Olympics extend far beyond the economic gains of tourism. From the deportation of sex workers to the displacement of refugees or the relocation of students like Jeyna, these expulsions underscore a fundamental concern: what are the hidden costs of hosting such a monumental event? Are the games worth the suffering endured by those living in it? 

Wes Sprouse: With the Olympics getting closer, people are paying more attention to how France prepares for the event. There are questions to go along with concerns about how the country is addressing the harm caused to its most vulnerable communities. Important questions need answers, and we may find some of them once the games begin on July 26th.

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