Police clear out two refugee camps in Paris

Police and local officials evacuated two refugee camps in Paris early on Thursday as France comes under pressure to do more for the thousands of migrants living in squalid conditions.

Police clear out two refugee camps in Paris

The clear out began at around 6am when police joined by social services and aid workers moved in to the camps that had sprung up at Gare d’Austerlitz and outside the Town Hall of the 18th arrondissement.

In all around 500 refugees and migrants have been moved out with the Paris officials promising that they will be guaranteed a place to stay in a designated centre for at least one month.

Around 20 buses were laid on to take the refugees to the various lodgings in and around the Paris region.

The French government has been criticised recently for offering a two speed service to refugees, with new arrivals granted lodging, warm meals and help with the asylum process, while those who have been living for months in camps in Paris, Calais and along the north coast, have been left to fend for themselves.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recognised the problem.

“It would be abhorrent to say those who arrive will be dealt with quickly and the others we’ll leave outside. I want to reassure them,” said Hidalgo.

Many of the migrants were only too pleased to leave the tents behind them and some had prepared their baggage in advance.

Most of those living in the camps in Paris are said to be Sudanese and Eritrean, with most using the camps as stop off points on the way to Calais, from where they hope to get to the UK.

Pascal Brice, head of OPFRA, the organisation that deals with asylum applications in France, was at the Austerlitz camp on Thursday.

He spoke to the migrants telling them that: “Buses will take you to accommodation around the Paris region where you will be welcomed with dignity. You will be given food and officials will deal with you individually.”

There have been calls for France to house migrants and refugees in some of the 77,000 social housing flats that remain empty.

The HLM, as they are know in France, are mainly in small towns around the country where there is littler demand, but supporters of the idea say it would offer a long term solution.

SEE ALSO: France welcomes refugees but abandons 'migrants'



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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.