Police cleared out around 400 people on Wednesday morning. Photo: AFP
Around 400 Roma were cleared from a shantytown in northern Paris on Wednesday morning after local authorities deemed the area to be "too dangerous".
Police moved in early in the morning to clear out Roma families living in the shantytown, which stood on unused railway tracks, known as the petite ceinture, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.
The evacuation followed a health check by authorities last week, which revealed 173 people were deemed to be in "vulnerable" health, eight of whom were school children.
There were even four cases of tuberculosis among the camp's families, many of whom had lived there since June.
The report found that 135 families were living in precarious hygiene conditions. It also found that the area was a safety risk due to a combination of rudimentary heating and poor exit options.
Camp inhabitants had been warned in advance of the evacuation, with many of them leaving before Wednesday.
Those who remained were loaded on to buses and moved on by police. The Paris prefecture said every family would be rehoused, but French authorities have been criticized in the past for dismantling camps but failing to provide any alternative accommodation.
It is unclear where the Roma will be re-housed.
"We are Europeans, why don't we have our rights?" asked one of those who was taken away, according to Le Point newspaper
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland called on France to ensure the Roma were offered accomiodation and not simply deported.
"It is crucial that the French authorities provide all those who have been forced to leave the ‘Petite ceinture’ camp – including children and elderly people – with adequate, alternative accommodation, particularly as they have decided to take this action during winter," said Jagland.
"Last year an estimated 11,000 Roma people were evicted from their homes in France," he said.
"There is no evidence to suggest that a policy of mass forced eviction will bring a lasting solution to the exclusion and prejudice many Roma face.
"On the contrary, forced evictions can prove counter-productive as they often disrupt the schooling of Roma children and hamper the efforts of those who provide basic healthcare to Roma communities, for example through vaccination campaigns."
"It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a systematic national policy to forcibly evict the Roma," he said at the time, attacking the policy as "punitive and destructive."
A failure to improve treatment of Roma people "simply exacerbates entrenched popular discrimination against what is already one of Europe's most deprived and marginalized communities," he said.
France has come under fire from various quarters in recent years for its policy towards the Roma, which basically involves evicting them from their makeshift camps and deporting them - despite the fact that as EU citizens they should enjoy the same freedom of movement as British or Germans.
The collection of makeshift homes had stood in the area for around seven years - enough to have made it the oldest of its kind in France.