French government orders evacuation of Paris migrant camp

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A burgeoning migrant camp in Paris on a canal used by joggers and cyclists is at the centre of a tug-of-war over how best to respond to the unrelenting arrivals of migrants in the French capital.

Two migrants drowned this month in canals and others have been injured in fights, increasing the pressure to act.

France’s interior minister Gerard Collomb on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of some 2,300 migrants at the camp and others around Paris.

But he and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo remain at odds over where to take them and how to find a lasting solution.

A migrant takes a nap near tents where asylum seekers live in a makeshift camp alongside the canal Saint-Martin (Francois Mori/AP)
A migrant takes a nap near tents where asylum seekers live in a makeshift camp alongside the Canal Saint-Martin (Francois Mori/AP)

Mr Collomb expressed “regret” at Ms Hidalgo’s refusal to clear out the migrants, and said he had no choice but to order an evacuation, expected in the coming days.

The mayor and aid groups want the migrants put in shelters, not just evacuated in a police operation and dispersed or summarily deported.

Paris police have already cleared out some 28,000 migrants from Paris camps in the past three years, but the arrivals have not slowed.

Migrants gather at the only water spigot at a migrant camp in Paris (Elaine Ganley/AP)
Migrants gather at the only water taps at a migrant camp in Paris (Elaine Ganley/AP)

Refusing to shelter the Paris migrants exemplifies the approach.

Side-to-side and back-to-back, hundreds of small tents are packed under bridges on the side of a canal in far north-eastern Paris, beside a shopping centre, banks and other businesses.

The tents, filled mainly with African migrants, hold stories of horrific stays in Libya, desperate boat trips across the Mediterranean, frozen journeys on foot through the Alps – and visions of the good life that fuels the dreams of all migrants.

Joggers, cyclists and those working in the area pass in the narrow space available, as river shuttles and barges ply the canal’s waters.

Migrants camp under a bridge in Paris
Migrants camp under a bridge in Paris (Elaine Ganley/AP)

“It’s not the best vision from the office window,” said Kevin Sadoun, who works at a major bank with offices around the largest encampment, known as the “Millenaire” after the shopping centre overlooking the tents.

“We see people pee, defecate … But they have no choice,” he said.

There are few portable toilets and urinals, and just one set of taps where migrants wash clothes.

Naby Sylla, a 20-year-old Guinean, is among migrants who crossed into France via the Alps, after travelling by raft from Sabratha, Libya, to Italy.

He said he left Italy after being attacked twice, once with a bottle, and needing hospital treatment.

“In Africa, we thought that Europe was a place of welcome. Unfortunately, we don’t find that,” he said.

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