You don't have to walk very far in Paris to catch a man rummaging through leftovers in a bin, a kid fumbling for coins on the street side, or a crippled woman sitting in a tunnel with nothing but a used coffee cup to collect loose change, her face full of flagrant desperation. The same words are repeated day in, day out. They need food, a restaurant ticket, money, anything to keep them alive. They sell magazines that no-one wants to read. The metro smells of piss and sweat but it's the only place for them to keep warm in winter months before the last train departs and they're forced to leave. Living in Paris is so ridiculously expensive that I'm not surprised so many people have taken to begging as their only source of income.
Roma (gypsies) hold malnourished children over their arms as they crawl through the metro with one hand hanging limply to collect money. They have the notorious reputation of being thieves and under Sarkozy's government a large number of illegal immigrants were repatriated in 2010 which spurred on accusations of France's racism. Many of these Roma live in camps scattered across France in urban settlements lacking secure or sanitary conditions. Their situation is dire. According to Sarkozy, these camps are sources of crime, prostitution, trafficking and child exploitation which is why he wanted to put a stop to it.
Being part of the EU means that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have the right to come to France without a visa, but French immigration laws require them to have work or residency permits if they want to spend more than three months in France. Understandably, these permits are difficult to obtain which means many Roma are forced to either return home, or stay in France illegally in unliveable circumstances.
It's far too easy to become desensitized; to walk past a homeless person with your iPod headphones in, on the way to a cafe where you proceed to spend extravagant amounts on coffee and cake. A coffee in Starbucks will cost you €4, while a baguette can be as little as 80 cents and could cure a child's hunger, be it temporarily.
The other day I saw a man clinging onto a bar, sobbing. The pain in his eyes was unbearable and his uncontrollable tears were heart wrenching. Person after person walked past him, unwilling to be the Good Samaritan. And I did the same.