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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Paris fire prompts housing pledge
Victims' relatives
Campaigners say large immigrant families lack housing
France has vowed to improve housing for society's most vulnerable members, after 14 children and three adults died in a blazein Paris.

The fire swept through a block of flats housing African immigrants in Paris' 13th district. Thirty people were hurt.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy blamed the deaths on overcrowding in the run-down seven-storey building.

Social Cohesion and Housing Minister Jean-Louis Borloo promised to launch a programme to build new social housing.

He said details of the "high priority project" would be released within the next few days.

Some 200 firefighters took two hours to control the blaze, which broke out in a stairwell at around 0017 (2217 GMT Thursday).

These insalubrious and indecent facilities once again prove we are experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis in this country
Martine Aubry
Opposition MP

They helped most of the building's 130 residents, including many from Senegal and Mali, to safety.

In April, 24 people died in a fire at a Paris hotel also housing immigrants, prompting calls for better housing.

Dogad Dogoui, the president of Africagora - a club which represents black immigrants in France - told the BBC that the government had shown little interest in tackling their housing problems.

"There are no houses in Paris for families with several children. Maybe this society doesn't accept families with five, seven or eight children," he said.

"It is a problem to make real integration. These children are French children. Black but French, born here in Paris. The government and the city has a responsibility to find the correct houses."

'Appalling tragedy'

Mr Sarkozy, a future presidential candidate, visited the scene of the fire in south-eastern Paris. He described the scene as an "abominable spectacle" and announced an investigation into housing conditions for immigrants across the capital.

Opposition MP Martine Aubry said the time had come to act and not just shed crocodile tears.

"Once again France is waking up to an appalling tragedy, with children asphyxiated and men and women burned," she told the BBC.

"These insalubrious and indecent facilities once again prove we are experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis in this country. I believe we are all responsible. No government has tackled this problem head-on.

"Now we must really make sure land can be acquired to build social housing."

Family loss

Survivors from the fire described desperate scenes as people fled the building.

"I heard children cry, families scream," Oumar Cisse told journalists after he was evacuated from the building. "Some children were yelling for their mothers and fathers.

A survivor and her child after a fire in Paris
Rescuers helped many of the building's residents to escape

"Lots of people wanted to jump out of the windows."

He said the building was "very dirty", and infested with rats and mice.

"We were very badly housed, we had been waiting for new homes since 1991," he said.

The injured were being treated in hospitals across the French capital.

According to the French Red Cross, one family lost four of its six children in the blaze.


Have you been affected by the fire? Do you, or someone you know, live in similar accommodation? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

Do you have any pictures or video of the blaze? If so, you can send them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk

Lodging is a real problem, here, in Paris. And people suffer both from the greed of the owners and the age of the buildings. This is the Paris not shown to tourists, the Paris of poor (or at least not rich) people that live in 4m squared with children. Most of those buildings were renovated one or two times since WW2, at most. If nothing is done, this is bound to happen again! I hope that something will be done, but referencing such buildings is only half of the quarter of the beginning of what should be done.
Loris, Paris, France

What makes me angry is how few places have any form of smoke or fire alarm. The last apartment block I lived in did have one but it didn't work - as we discovered when there was a fire and we all had to evacuate. The building I live in now has no alarm of any sort as far as I am aware and we have wooden stairs (as do many Parisian buildings). Smoke alarms are difficult to find in France and expensive to buy when you do. I ended up bringing one back from the UK that cost me 4 in the supermarket. Surely these very simple and (normally) inexpensive devices could save so many lives if the French fire brigade started a campaign like the ones in the UK?
Gemma, Paris, France

My husband was recently working in Paris and was housed in an 8 storey block. There were no smoke alarms evident anywhere! In private rented accommodation here it is law to have smoke alarms why is the not the case in Paris?
Patricia Evans, Southampton, England

One of my daughter's classmates died at the age of 6, after a fire started in his family's apartment. His mother and older sister also died in that blaze. Similar to what happened in Paris, the apartment had no adequate fire escape and was considered an illegal apartment for that reason. Speaking to the father only days after that tragedy, just before the funerals, was one of the most heart-breaking experiences I had. It also made me angry because what happened to them (and now to the people in Paris) could have been prevented but somebody who had housing to offer, was too greedy to give a damn about the occupant's safety
Lucille, Queens, NY

During an art trip to Paris in the early 1990s, we stayed in such a hotel on the Paris ring road. Several African families were in each room, one broken elevator serviced the whole hotel and night-time security was non-existent. I truly hope this wasn't the same pathetic hole that claimed so many innocent young lives.
Christian Cawley, Redcar, England

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BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See firefighters help people from the burning building




SEE ALSO:
Papers agonize over Paris fire
27 Aug 05 |  Europe
In pictures: Paris blaze
26 Aug 05 |  In Pictures
Country profile: France
05 Jul 05 |  Country profiles


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