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MIgrants stand near a makeshift camp in Saint Denis, Paris © Charles Platiau / Reuters
The Daily Mail has pulled a feature exposing a Paris suburb overrun with illegal migrants after Paris residents pointed out obvious mistakes in the story. It was however based on an actual alarming state report about a wider area.
The article, now deleted, promised to blow the lid on "Powder Keg Paris," advertised as "a devastating report" about 300,000 illegal migrants living in one French suburb described as "a community at odds with mainstream society."
After one Paris Muslim began pointing out the inaccuracies in the article, dated July 27, the Mail's staff pulled it, and blocked archive sites from accessing it.
The first mistake pointed out by Marwan Muhammad is a basic one. Throughout the piece, the author apparently confused the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris - the setting for the story - with the administrative department of Seine-Saint-Denis, located to the city's northeast. Seine-Saint-Denis covers 236 square kilometers, of which Saint-Denis is but a small part.
Marwan Muhammad✔@_MarwanMuhammad · 5 Aug
Hello @MailOnline. I've read your "devastating" article on "illegal migrants in Saint Denis". We too in France have tabloïds who couldn't care less about the truth, but I really have to say: you're in a league of your own. Everything in your paper is wrong. A fact checking: pic.twitter.com/zWiqlffxsP
Mistake 1: from beginning to end, your reporter confuses "Saint Denis" (the city) and "Seine Saint Denis" (the département). There's a small difference between the two: "Seine Saint Denis" includes 40 cities, over 236 km2. A simple look at a map would have saved you the trouble. pic.twitter.com/md0OWN84ug
2:57 AM - Aug 5, 2018
From there, the article painted a picture of a lawless "no-go zone," where Muslim residents run Sharia courts and openly defy the country's ‘Burqa ban.' In Saint-Denis, the piece claimed, Christmas markets are canceled and Muslims refuse to shake hands with infidels. Stolen goods are bought and sold in public, and illegal "basement mosques" preach holy war against the west.
One by one, Muhammad debunked the inaccuracies. Chief among them was the article's claim that 300,000 illegal immigrants call the neighborhood home. According to Muhammad, the area is only home to a total of 110,733 people.
View image on Twitter
Marwan Muhammad✔@_MarwanMuhammadReplying to @_MarwanMuhammad
Now let's look at the population data in Saint Denis. Since 1968, the population has only increased 11,5%, reaching 110 733 in 2014, so please explain to us (with all due respect to elementary arithmetics), how could 300 000 of these 110 733 human beings be illegal immigrants ?
3:19 AM - Aug 5, 2018
Muhammad's quick-fire fact checking was applauded by French Muslims and foreign journalists who shared their own pictures of Saint-Denis. Pictures from one BBC journalist showed a neighborhood indistinguishable from many of Paris' other suburbs.
View image on Twitter
HughSykes@HughSykesReplying to @_MarwanMuhammad @MailOnline
Random snaps from a recent afternoon in St. Denis. Terrifying.
5:35 AM - Aug 5, 2018
Local councillor Majid Messaoudene described the article as an attempt to "stigmatize" the neighborhood's population. After the Mail took down its inaccurate story, Muhammad called on supporters to get behind a campaign to force the newspaper's advertisers to withdraw their financial support.
The complicated reality
While Muhammad earned points on the internet for shooting down a shoddy piece of journalism and blasted the "far right websites" for spreading fake news, he did not address the problems described by a major source used in the piece. The 2018 government report, while not matching the Daily Mail reporting, still appears to tell an alarming story of illegal immigration and crime in the wider Seine-Saint-Denis department.
The report does not mention the existence of ‘Sharia courts' or Muslim-controlled "no-go zones," but paints a picture of the department at odds with Muhammad's fact-checking tweetstorm.
For example, the government report describes rampant street crime, which contributes to a "climate of insecurity" among residents of Seine-Saint-Denis. "Drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking are massively present in the real economy of the department," it continues. Poor social services have made Seine-Saint-Denis a "ghettoized" department, beyond the measure or control of the state.
‘Explosive situation': Pro-migrant group forced to end its crucial work in Paris due to violence
The department's proximity to railway stations, as well as Charles de Gaulle airport, has made it popular with immigrants new to the city.
According to the report, the state does not actually know the illegal immigrant population of the area, and places the number anywhere between 150,000 and 400,000. While this indeed conflicts with the exact figure of 300,000 people given by the Daily Mail, that is still a sizable chunk of the department's 1.5 million residents.
Authored by Rodrigue Koukouendo of President Macron's centrist ‘La République En Marche!' party and another center-right politician, the 2018 report recommends that the government lift its ban on recording the ethnicity and religion of arrivals, in order to better understand the area's problems.
The lack of positive coverage of Saint-Denis is not exclusive to "far-right" websites, either. A BBC articleon the neighborhood, written in the wake of the November 2015 massacres at the Bataclan Theater and throughout the city, portrayed Saint-Denis as a hotbed of radicalization, where residents see themselves as separate from the rest of cosmopolitan Paris.
"This is the most dangerous place in Paris," a Moroccan woman working in the area told the BBC. "Not a day passes without incident."
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to have been the mastermind of the attacks, was killed in a police raid in Saint-Denis that November.
Since 2012, the French government has declared the area a priority in its fight against crime. TripAdvisor reviews warn tourists, particularly solo female travelers, to steer clear of the area, and travel forums abound with articles and posts urging visitors to stick to the safer center of Paris, just a few miles away on the metro.
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