Social Cafés are places mixing social services and conviviality for ageing migrants: they can come and talk with social workers about their rights and access to welfare (pensions, social housing and healthcare). Social Cafés are also proper cafés where mint tea and fresh drinks are served for a small price. Social activities are organised, such as gardening, visits to museums or outings to a theatre. There are two Social Cafés in the North East of Paris: one is located on Rue Dejean (18th district) and one on Rue Pali-Kao (20th district). The association Ayyem Zamen, which means ‘good old times’ in Berber language and gives its name to each café, runs both Social Cafés. They are open daily, from Monday to Friday, 9h30-17h00. Their main focus is on social cohesion, although by providing assistance to access social benefits, the initiative also fosters social mobility.
The objective of the Social Café initiative is twofold: providing social assistance with paper work to old migrants and combating isolation. The initiative emerged from a study conducted by Ayyem Zamen director, on the exclusion of old migrants from the ordinary-law system in 2001. It demonstrated that the specific situation of old migrants who have worked all their life in France (and therefore are eligible to social benefits), but have kept a family living back home (and therefore might not reside in France all year long, which is a condition to receive these social benefits) is not sufficiently addressed by the administration. Moreover, old migrants have difficulty navigating the French social administration to secure their access to social benefits and healthcare because their situation is complex and their knowledge of French is limited. Finally, they may suffer from isolation because they have left their family back home or have lived alone all their life.
The target audience of Social Cafés is migrants above 55 years old, because after this age people are not forced to look for work when they are unemployed and it has been observed that migrants are more likely to be in this situation, either because they suffered from a work accident or because they were not able to secure a job (in most cases, because of their lack of technical skills). The transition from activity to retirement is not a smooth one. For many of them they have fallen into unemployment or invalidity, and then have reached the minimum age to receive a retirement pension (60 year old). To be sure, figuring out the social administration is a struggle for many and the Social Cafés also receive French people. However, the majority of the initiative audience are old migrants who have not acquired French nationality.
Ayyem Zamen requests a € 10/year participation fee to the association and in 2014, 750 people were members. Among these 750 people there are men and women, and according to the director, 12% are French, 70% are immigrants born in North Africa and the remaining 8% are mostly immigrants born in Sub-Saharan Africa (they might have acquired French nationality but are still counted as immigrants, or foreign-born, by the census). The café can host an average of 50 people. Some only come in the morning to speak with a social worker; some also stay around the café in the afternoon. Some days are busier than others, such as days when the neighbouring market is open (Café social on rue Dejean is actually strategically located on the very street where the Dejean street market operates).
For a total cost of € 400,000 per year, that includes the cost of renting the space and the equivalent of 6.5 full salary (2 people receiving customers/café, 2 people in charge of organising social activities in both cafés, 1 cleaner and 1 director), the café social works with financial support from the Agency for social cohesion and equal opportunity (ACSE) and the Paris Department for City Policy (DPVI). It also receives financial support from private foundation such as Fondation de France, Pro BTP (a construction company) and Caisse d’épargne (a bank). It makes a small profit with the money collected from drinks served in the café.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The director of the café social initiative rejects the term diversity on the ground that it is a catch-all category that is unclear – an argument that can also be heard at the level of city government (Escafré-Dublet and Lelévrier, 2014). Consistently with governmental actors, he would rather speak about equality and equal access to rights. According to him, “if equality is effective, there is no need to talk about diversity”. The café social initiative therefore operates in the Republican framework: it fosters the equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious origin.
However, Social Cafés do address a specific audience: the majority of the participants are from North Africa and the very title of the space is in Berber language. It is based on the principle that migrants cannot be accommodated by the ordinary-law system and migrants living in the neighbourhood are from North Africa, mainly. The initiative is therefore de facto dealing with diversity (in the sense that migrants are in a specific situation in contrast with the mainstream population of people above 55 years of age, but also because the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods are mostly younger, with a high proportion of people under 25 years of age) but in the Republican framework of equality: without the recognition of difference.
Main factors influencing success or failure
One of the most influential success factors of the initiative is the adequacy of the project with the needs of the old migrants: the provision of social support in a friendly environment is very successful.
Another success factor was the ability of the director in securing the financial support of the administration. In order to do so, he already contacted the Agency for Social Cohesion (ACSE) and the Paris Department for City Policy (DPVI), when he conducted the initial study on the specific needs of old migrants.
The limit of the initiative lies in its lack of regulation: the organiser would like to maintain the drop-in system and avoid giving appointments to migrants. However, social workers sometimes have to face long lines of people who arrive early before the café opens. Increasing the number of social workers available could solve this issue.
After the opening of the Social Café on rue Pali-Kao, the association was able to open a second Social Café on rue Dejean, a few years later. Now, the Paris Department for City Policy (DPVI) is trying to replicate the project by opening two additional Social Cafés in Paris, in the 12th and the 13th districts. The city government considers that Social Cafés are an effective tool to respond to the diversity of the ageing population in Paris. The director is also in touch with a network of organisations that deal with ageing migrants (Accompany Aged Migrants – Accompagner les migrants âgés, AMA) in other European countries such as, for instance, Belgium and Germany.
 There is a minimum period of 6 month residency in France.