PARIS (Reuters) - Police cleared an illegal refugee camp in Paris on Wednesday, in the French government’s latest attempt to deal with a migrant influx the country has been facing for the past three years.
At the Millenaire camp northeast of Paris, riot police flanked migrants as they boarded buses to temporary housing around the city. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said some 1,000 migrants out of the 1,600 counted on site had been evacuated.
A prefect for the greater Ile-de-France region said other dismantling operations at smaller camps in and around Paris would take place “as soon as possible.”
The migrants were being moved out of the camp for general welfare and security reasons, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in a statement.
“Police services will be fully committed to preventing such camps being built again,” Collomb said. The evacuation was the 34th to take place since June 2015, he said.
Europe has faced a migrant crisis since 2015, after years of conflict in the Middle East. More than 1 million people from Africa and the Middle East flooded into the continent.
In France, much of the migrant influx ended up in the northern port of Calais, where a giant slum was cleared by the authorities in late 2016. Most of the rest have gathered in Paris and the southeast near the Franco-Italian border.
Officials and NGOs say 2,700 illegal migrants live in the Paris area. They said the migrants being evacuated would be taken to 24 accommodation centres around Paris, where they would be allowed to file asylum requests.
An NGO worker at the camp told Reuters his teams had counted around 900 migrants, many from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, boarding buses.
“A lot of these migrants believe they will end up being welcomed here, in France. We try to inform them on the realities they face, because if they have left their fingerprints in another country, they will be expelled,” said Yann Manzi, who works for Utopia 56, an NGO that provides legal help to refugees.
Under European law, asylum seekers must remain in the first European country they enter. They often have to register with their fingerprints when they arrive.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has said it wants to be both firm and fair on immigration. But it has taken a tougher stance lately, with parliament approving a bill that tightens asylum rules .
As elsewhere in Europe, immigration from Africa and the Middle East has become a major political issue in France, fuelling the rise of far-right parties such as the National Front.
Additional reporting by Julie Carriat, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Matthias Blamont; editing by Richard Pullin, Larry King