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Migrants had nowhere else to go, man accused of running illegal shelters in New York City says

Man accused of running illegal shelters says migrants had nowhere to go
Man accused of running illegal shelters says migrants had nowhere to go 02:30

NEW YORK -- A New York City business owner is accused of housing migrants in basements at his properties in Queens and the Bronx without permits. 

Ebou Sarr led the charge to shelter African migrant men in the basements of the buildings in Richmond Hill and Fordham. Sarr owns the businesses and leases space at the locations.

"Every day I talk to them. I've been running back and forth between Queens and the Bronx," said Sarr. "They have nowhere to go!"

City officials said Sarr housed dozens of migrants in illegal sleeping quarters at the properties.

Inspectors said they found dozens of beds and cots in tight spaces on the first floors and in the cellars, with limited ventilation, exits or bathrooms. They also found e-bikes, space heaters and hot plates. 

"We went in and found that there were individuals living in unsafe conditions and as we would with any New Yorker that we find living in an unsafe condition, we immediately vacated those locations and referred those individuals to additional resources," said Camille Joseph Varlack, chief of staff to Mayor Eric Adams

We're told some of the migrant men were moved to a service center to wait to be placed in another shelter.   

Adams said Sarr took advantage of asylum seekers. 

"I don't know if this was benevolence or if it was a benefit that he was trying to obtain," said Adams. 

Sarr said the men reached out to him after their 30-day shelter stays ended and most had nowhere else to go but the streets.   

"They're sleeping on the streets and they're giving them tickets. It's just sad," said Sarr. "I was taking a donation, $300 donation monthly."

At one point, Sarr said he lived in the Bronx basement and that he's now looking for a better place for the men. 

"Back home, when you have a store, you can live in your store. That's the way it is over there," said Sarr.

According to officials, 179,800 migrants have gone through the city's system since last spring, including 1,200 last week. With 217 emergency sites and limits on the length of stays, housing everyone has been no easy task. 

"We are helping ourselves because they're not helping us," said Sarr. 

CBS New York has learned New York City is exploring all legal and safe options to house migrants, including expanding its faith bed program, inviting houses of worship that have space and are up to code to help. 

Sarr said he wants to meet with city officials to discuss housing ideas.   

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