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IMMIGRATION

Paris police evacuate 2,500 migrants from squalid camp

Paris police on Friday moved out 2,500 migrants who had been living rough in the north of the city, officials said, in what is the 34th evacuation to have taken place in the French capital since summer 2015.

Paris police evacuate 2,500 migrants from squalid camp
Photo: AFP

Paris police on Friday moved out 2,500 migrants who had been living rough in the north of the city, officials said, in the
latest operation to ease strains caused by a human influx to Europe.

The evacuation, which went ahead smoothly, entailed moving out migrants who had been living around an aid centre set up in the Porte de la Chapelle area last November.

The authorities mobilised 60 buses to disperse them to a couple of other locations in the Paris region, mainly school gymnasiums that have become available during the holiday season.

Charity groups took part in the operation.

Officials had been expecting to move out 1,600 migrants, but according to Francois Ravier, a senior official with the Paris region prefecture, “at least 2,500” people were involved.

“Experience shows that there are always more people than estimated,” he said.

Paris became a gathering point for migrants after the closure last October of the notorious “Jungle” near Calais — a makeshift camp near the Channel coast where thousands lived in the hope of climbing aboard trucks or trains to get into Britain.

Friday's evacuation was the 34th to take place in Paris in the last two years. The previous operation was on May 9, when more than 1,600 migrants were moved out from the same area.

Aid workers said around 200 more migrants had been coming into the area every week recently, raising security and hygiene concerns and causing tensions with locals.

Europe's migrant influx began in 2015, centering on Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Afghanistan, crossed from Turkey.

The crisis receded in 2016 under an agreement with Turkey to clamp down on illegal border crossings.

However, it revived this year, focussing instead on sea crossings from Libya to Italy, mainly entailing people from sub-Saharan Africa.

On Thursday, EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 people since the start of the year and says it is overwhelmed.

POLITICS

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.

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