The Jardin des Olieux is a small park just off the Boulevard Victor Hugo in Lille. Twenty-five or so homeless migrants have been camping there for a couple of months. Several of them are teenagers. Mamadé from Guinea, who is 16, told me that every morning they walk to a day centre near the train station for a meal, coffee and a wash. But they have nowhere to sleep except the park, and the police have taken away their mattresses. The French state in theory guarantees appropriate accommodation and support for unaccompanied migrant children, but there is an effective ‘presumption of majority’, according to a local lawyer, as well as long delays in the process which leave many on the streets for weeks.
On 13 July 1906, Benoît Damien, the dean of the science faculty at Lille University, wrote to the president of the Lille Chamber of Commerce, Edmond Faucheur. Damien was a member of the Esperanto Industrial and Commercial Society of France, and had probably been to the first Universal Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-Sur-Mer the year before. Local writers and politicians had been describing Lille as a ‘crossroads’ city between Germany, France, Belgium and England since at least the 1870s. With an eye to its commercial future, the municipality offered German and English classes in its schools. Damien was convinced that Lille should adopt Esperanto.