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How to Stay Safe and Sound in France
At a Glance:
- Property crimes are not uncommon, especially in Paris and other big cities.
- Expats living in risk areas need to be aware of emergency procedures against elemental dangers such as wildfires and flooding.
- There are three main policing forces in France: two civilian and one military.
- In response to terror attacks and a generally high threat level, France has been in a state of emergency from 2015 to 2017.
The Biggest Danger: Property Crimes
Pickpockets regularly operate at popular tourist sites and on public transportation — in Paris especially on the train to and from Charles de Gaulle Airport as well as on Metro line 1. Card tricks and so-called confidence schemes are also common: you might be asked to take a survey, sign a petition, view friendship bracelets or other jewelry, only for money to be demanded straight after. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, stay aware of your surroundings at all times, avoid overtly displaying your valuables, and do not store them in any easy-to-access places.
Keeping your valuables out of sight also applies while traveling by car: smash-and-grabs out of both stationary as well as slow-moving vehicles are regularly reported, especially in the regions Auvergne, Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Aquitaine, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. Please note that especially expensive cars registered abroad are a favorite target.
If you are the victim of a crime, call 17 for the police or report to your nearest commissariat or poste de police.
While out and about yourself, also make sure to always carry your identification papers with you and be aware that completely covering you face with a mask, veil, balaclava, etc. is prohibited in public. There will be no exceptions made for tourists or foreign residents.
Beware Potential Elemental Dangers
Wildfires can occur particularly in the months June to August and along the Mediterranean coast of France or on Corsica; ensure you know local emergency procedures.
Along rivers, there is a real risk of flooding, as the severe 2016 summer floods in Paris and across the country — described as the worst in decades — have shown once again. For up-to-date information on water levels and flooding risks, refer to the Vigicrues website provided by the Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Sea. General weather warnings are provided by Meteo France and also include detailed information on snow conditions and avalanche risks in the mountains (websites in French only).
Emergency Contacts and French Law Enforcement
In case of an emergency, either dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 or
- 15 for medical assistance (SAMU: Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente);
- 17 for the police;
- 18 for the fire department.
There are three main policing forces in France: the civilian Police Nationale and Police Municipal, as well as the Gendarmerie Nationale, which is part of the armed forces. In 2017, the ongoing state of emergency in France meant an increased presence of both police and armed forces within the country. For more information on this, please refer to the following section.
Terrorist Threat and the State of Emergency
In recent years, France has been hit by a range of severe terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islamic extremist groups, including, but not limited to, attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 and in Nice on Bastille Day, 14 July 2016, which saw numerous dead and hundreds wounded. At the time of writing in 2017, the threat of terrorism in France — and indeed across the Western world — continues to be considered high by multiple foreign offices as well as the French government. Still, the actual chances of falling victim to a terrorist attack are statistically significantly lower than the everyday dangers of driving a car, for example.
The state of emergency, which was put into force after the Paris attacks in 2015, was renewed multiple times and continued until November 2017. Reinforced security measures under this state of emergency included, but were not limited to, the deployment of approximately 10,000 additional soldiers within France (Operation Sentinelle), short-notice closures of public places, and administrative house searches. A new anti-terrorism bill adopted in October 2017 has seen many of the emergency powers transferred into ordinary law.
Expect strengthened security checks at train stations, airports, tourist hotspots, government buildings, and other places of interest, and don’t be surprised by the presence of army patrols, particularly in Paris. If you would like to receive alerts in cases of crisis — be it a terror attack or natural disaster — you can download the official SAIP app (système d’alerte et d’information des populations), available for Android and iOS and both in English and French, from the respective app stores.
Ongoing Tensions in France’s Banlieues
The three-week long riots across France in 2005 made international headlines at the time and reports suggest little improvement has been made in the years since: tensions in France’s poor suburban housing estates remain high even in 2017.
Often simply referred to by the French word for suburb, banlieues like Clichy-sous-Bois or Grigny see at times extreme poverty, high crime-rates, racial and social segregation, and little neighborhood policing. A general mistrust between youth and police is just as common there as unemployment rates of up to or even more than 40% among young people.
This general social misery and a bleak outlook among the local populations who are predominantly from former French African colonies — although many have been French for generations — has led to what the media likes to describe as a powder keg of frustration waiting to ignite again.
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