French police remove over 1,600 migrants from Paris camps

Updated November 08, 2019

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PARIS: Police evacuating migrants from their camps on Thursday.—AFP
PARIS: Police evacuating migrants from their camps on Thursday.—AFP

PARIS: French police evacuated over 1,600 migrants from two camps in northern Paris on Thursday, one of the biggest such operations in the city in years, a day after the government unveiled tough new measures to a “take back control” of immigration.

Around 600 police officers escorted the migrants from tents where coaches transported them to reception centres, in an operation that began under steady rain at around 6am, a reporter said.

Police said they evacuated a total of 1,606 migrants from two camps near the Porte de la Chapelle, sheltered under part of the ring road round that surrounds the capital.

Many of the occupants, which included families with children, said they were from Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa.

“I cannot allow a dangerous situation like this ... all this cannot remain,” Paris police chief Didier Lallement told reporters at the scene.

He said the operation, one of the largest in Paris since camps regularly began springing up in 2015, “was decided in the framework of the implementation of the [government] plan, it did not happen by chance”.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to crack down on immigration, a move widely seen as an attempt to keep rightwing parties from siphoning off voters ahead of municipal elections next year.

“We want to take back control of our migration policy,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told a press conference on Wednesday, unveiling a series of measures which he said aimed to strengthen France’s “sovereignty”.

Awa, a 32-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast, said Thursday that she had been sleeping in a tent at the Porte de la Chapelle since she arrived in France a year ago.

“It’s raining, it’s cold. I don’t know where I will go, but I’m glad to go because I will have a roof over my head tonight,” she said, as she waited in line for a coach, carrying just a backpack.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said it was the 59th operation to clear migrant camps since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and misery in Asia, the Middle East and Africa headed for Europe.

“Each time we’re told they won’t come back,” Hidalgo, who has clashed with the government over who is responsible for finding a solution to the migrant camps, told journalists on Thursday.

Residents have long complained of insecurity and unsanitary conditions at the camps, and police officials said they had registered 213 “aggressions” near the Porte de la Chapelle camps this year — not including clashes between migrant groups.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019