News

Police clear last Paris migrant camp, for now

February 4, 2020 07:50 PM


Police Tuesday cleared the last migrant camp in Paris, moving 427 people to shelters as part of a government promise to rid the French capital of the unsanitary, makeshift refuges.

The vagrants, including four women, had been living in 266 tents and rickety shelters on the Canal Saint-Denis in a camp "strewn with waste and refuse, overrun by rats and giving off a pestilent and foul-smelling odour of urine and excrement", according to the regional authority.

The operation to tear down the camp began at 6:00 am (0500 GMT) and lasted two hours. Dozens of informal settlements have sprung up around the French capital in recent years, erected by desperate migrants from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia with their sights on the northern French port of Calais, a jump-off point for crossings to Britain via the Channel.

But French authorities tear down the camps, which tend to be concentrated in Paris' northeastern parts, saying they pose a health hazard for the occupants and for neighbouring residents. Last week, police moved more than 1,400 migrants, including 93 children, from a nearby camp just weeks after dismantling another, with some 1,600 inhabitants, at nearby La Chapelle.

"There are no more camps, that was the idea," the authority for the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, told AFP after Tuesday's operation. "And the police will monitor this site to ensure there is no resettlement."

The 427 people were bused to gymnasiums and other reception centres where "room could be found" after last week's evacuation.

Francois Dagnaud, the mayor of Paris' northeastern 19th district within whose borders the camps arose, said their removal was "a relief for the people crowded in this camp and for the residents because the situation was very difficult to manage for the residents."

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner had promised to clear all migrant camps from the city by the end of last year, in part by opening more shelters for asylum seekers but also by deporting those whose claims are rejected.

Police are being deployed to ensure migrants do not return to the razed camps or set up new ones. "We are not going to resume a never-ending cycle of evacuations followed by new installations," Paris police chief Didier Lallement said last week.

But critics say that unless the government provides long-term lodgings or the prospect of legal residency, many migrants will just keep returning to the streets. President Emmanuel Macron said last year that France must end its "lax" approach to immigration.

"I would love for this to be the end of the camps, but it will be reerected," predicted Dominique Versini, an elected official in Paris responsible for refugees who on Tuesday witnessed the 61st dismantling operation since 2015.

Added Dagnaud, "it is reasonable to fear that new camps will occur as long as the conditions of first reception in France and the administrative management of people present in the territory remain the same."

The camp evacuated on Tuesday had sprung up in just weeks, as the authorities were breaking up two others in the neighbourhood.



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