French police pull down Paris migrant camp

Dozens of police launched an operation on Tuesday morning to dismantle a makeshift camp in central Paris that had become home to around 350 migrants.

French police pull down Paris migrant camp

Police began to clear out the migrants at around 6.30am with buses lined up to away most of the migrants to a temporary transit centre outside the capital.

Later on Tuesday morning French police also cleared out two migrant camps in Calais that were located close to the Eurotunnel terminal, where many of the refugees try to board trains to the UK.

The camp in Paris, which had been set up underneath the overground Metro between the stations of Barbès and La Chapelle, was set up around eight months ago.

But in recent weeks the migrants, who were mostly men but included several women and children, were living in squalid conditions with authorities concerned about hygiene and the possible outbreak of diseases.

Authorities had put up signs over the weekend ordering the migrants to leave the camp within 48 hours and early on Tuesday morning police surrounded the site and blocked nearby traffic.


One Sudanese migrant, who asked not to be named, said that had spent Monday night at another migrant camp near the Gare du Lyon on the other side of town, and wasn't aware that this camp would be dismantled.

“Someone told me that this place was getting taken down so I came here immediately. But it's too late, they won't let me in,” he told The Local.
“I don't know what I'm going to do now. I have to think. If they gave me papers I would stay in France…”
He said that he had travelled to the northern port of Calais before, living for a period in the campsite there, but got sick and had to return to Paris in search of medicine. He added that fights would often break out among migrants in the queues for food or while trying to smuggle themselves onto UK-bound trucks.
The man, in his thirties, said that his parents had died in Sudan and that he was forced to flee, spending time in a prison in Libya before sharing a boat with 200 others on the way to Italy. 
“It's a very difficult life. But this is what we have and all we can do is try.”

The refugees, most of them from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia waited to board nearby buses to be taken to various shelters in the Paris area. Around 60 of them will be fast-tracked through the asylum process, reports say.

“The camps are a risk, in terms of outbreaks of diseases and health conditions, above all for those who live there,” said France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine.  

“France will welcome migrants, but it must also implement policies that will allow migrants to stay in the home countries and not end up in squalid camps,” she added. “France will not close its eyes. It will assume its responsibilities.”

Migrants were refused entry to the camp, even to reclaim their belongings before being moved on.The makeshift campsite is now empty, except for the empty tents and litter. #lachappelle

According to a survey conducted at the site last week by city authorities and refugee associations, 160 people at the camp wanted to stay in France while 200 intended to continue to other destinations, mostly the United Kingdom and Nordic countries.

“I have tried three times to get on a train to Calais, but each time the police caught me and threw me off,” 21-year-old Amanuel, from Eritrea told The Local previously.

“We try to hide in the toilets, but it’s difficult. We’ll try again. That’s our life for the moment,” he said.

“But we hope it will get better once we reach the UK.”

So far this year, more than 40,000 migrants — many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in countries like Libya and Eritrea — have arrived on Italian shores and some 1,770 have perished on the hazardous journey that's often undertaken on rickety and overcrowded craft.


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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.