MONTREUIL, FRANCE— About 100,000 Malians live in France and they are closely watching events in their homeland, where the French military launched its first ground assault against an Islamist insurgency Wednesday. One of the biggest Malian communities is located in the Paris suburb of Montreuil.
Foyer Bara, a hostel for Malian immigrant workers, sits on a small street just a couple of blocks from the subway station. It's a dark, rundown building, but full of activity
The central courtyard has been transformed into an informal street market. There are a couple of barbers. Other Malians sell candies and hot food from makeshift stands. Still others gather on this chilly day to discuss events in their homeland, where French troops are trying to halt an Islamist insurgency.
Moussa Doucoure, who helps run the Bara hostel, credited France for getting his country out of what he called a mess. He scoffed at the extremists for calling themselves Islamic.They are only bandits and thugs, he said, who rape women and cut off people's limbs.
Another Bara resident, Sigama Sekou said France is doing the right thing.
Sekou praised the French military for doing a remarkable job. He's been in France for 10 years, and said he feels welcome and respected here.
About 6,000 Malians live in Montreuil, a population so significant that it's earned this suburb the nickname "Little Bamako."
Claude Reznik, who's in charge of international cooperation at city hall, said Montreuil's Malian community is important - but not just because of its size.
Reznik said Malians have been in Montreuil for a long time - and this city has nurtured longstanding ties with an area in the Kayes region of western Mali, where many here come from. He said the municipality is just as worried about the crisis in Mali as its Malian residents.
Montreuil's leftist government is taking action to help Malians at home - trying to restore dilapidated, overcrowded workers' hostels like Bara.
Reznik called it unjust and inhuman to offer such abysmal conditions to people who live, work and pay taxes in France.
Yeli Doucoure, who is in charge of another Malian hostel, said his family in Mali is doing well. He also comes from Mali's Kayes region, which has not been directly affected by the Islamist insurgency. But he said Malians feel like a single family. They share the same customs and Islamic religion - and anger at the extremists who seized control of the north.
Doucoure said Malians will never forget the military help that France has offered. He hopes the French soldiers in Mali stay safe.