French police clear out Paris migrant camp
Police have evacuated the largest illegal refugee camp in Paris days after homeless charities warned that the situation was heading for “tragedy” following a stabbing and two drownings.
The evacuation of more than 1,000 migrants, mainly from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, came a day after France awarded honorary citizenship to an undocumented Malian for his “heroic” rescue of a small boy dangling from a fourth-floor balcony.
The dawn evacuation took place at the Millénaire camp along a canal at the porte de la Villette, northeastern Paris, which housed around 1,700 migrants in total.
The clearance took place without incident as migrants flanked by riot police boarded buses to temporary housing around the city.
"We don’t really know where we are going," said a Libyan who reached Paris seven months ago and gave his name as Issam. "It was hard here," he told AFP, clutching his one piece of baggage.
A state prefect for the Paris region said other smaller camps – one at La Chapelle, northern Paris, which contains around 400 migrants, and another along the trendy canal Saint Martin, containing around 800 – would be dismantled "as soon as possible”.
The migrants were being moved for welfare and security reasons, Gérard Collomb, the French interior minister, said in a statement.
"Police services will be fully committed to preventing such camps being built again," Mr Collomb said. The evacuation was the 34th to take place since June 2015, he added.
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French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for a new immigration law, still being debated in parliament, to speed up the asylum process and ramp up the deportation of economic migrants.
The issue of migration in France hit international headlines this week after a Malian migrant, Mamoudou Gassama, who was working illegally in the construction industry, saved a four-year-old boy hanging from a fourth-floor balcony.
The dramatic rescue turned him into an overnight national hero and prompted Mr Macron to grant him honorary citizenship.
He has already started work with the fire brigade after being offered a 10-month contract.
Immigration remains a key issue for French voters, polls suggest, and the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen won a third of votes in last year’s presidential election.
Paris mayor Socialist Anne Hidalgo praised the camp clearance on Wednesday but said that the city had been calling on the national government and interior ministry to take action for four months.
Ms Hidalgo has been embroiled in an angry row with Mr Collomb and the government, with the Socialist mayor calling on the state to find housing for migrants while the interior minister has retorted that it is the mayor’s responsibility to order evictions and to keep the capital’s streets safe and clean.
On Wednesday, Ms Hidalgo called on the government to approve the "reconstruction" of a migrant welcome centre in Paris to deal with the issue, as charities say that an extra 80 migrants are arriving every day in the French capital.
The last such centre at La Chapelle was closed in May to make way for a university building. Ms Hidalgo said that such a centre was "the only way to avoid fresh encampments in the streets".