France races to tear down its 570 squalid shanty towns but root problems persist

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France races to tear down its 570 squalid shanty towns but root problems persist
Photo: AFP

Despite being one of the world's wealthiest nations, France has a shocking 16,000 people living in more than 570 squalid slums across the country. The race is on to clear them out but critics say no solution is in place.


 "We live in France under the myth that slums have disappeared. It's not true." Yvan Gastaut, a historian from the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis told Le Monde newspaper.
According to a census, there are more than 570 slums in France, including 113 in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France.
Among the 16,000 people living in squalid conditions, 36 percent are children, according to figures quoted by Le Monde.
French authorities are in a race to clear the slums because under the law of "equality" slums are covered by the country's annual winter truce.
The 'winter truce' or trêve hivernale, beginning on November 1st and lasting until March 31st, means French landlords cannot forcibly evict tenants and is meant as a humanitarian measure to ensure people don't become homeless and end up sleeping on the cold winter streets.
Photo: AFP
Many of the slums have been set up by members of the Roma community. In recent years French authorities have been heavily criticized for regularly clearing out Roma slums without offering any kind of long term solution.
Most are simply deported despite the fact that as EU citizens they should enjoy the same freedom of movement as British or Germans. Many simply return at a later date.
UN rights chief called France's policy "punitive and destructive."
But France's slum clearances continue apace.
"Since the beginning of July, more than 4,600 people, including many children, have been expelled from the slum or squat where they were living, representing nearly 50 people a day," said human rights collective Romeurope. 
But experts say that evicting people in advance of winter truce doesn't mean the problem has gone away. 
"Politicians seize the moment to get rid of makeshift housing, making it appear as if the problem is solved. This is exactly the way Calais 'jungle' was evacuated at the end of 2016," explained the historian Yvan Gastaut to Le Monde.
Whole families are affected by these expulsions from illegal settlements and yet evaluating the individual situations of these families, once pushed for, "is no longer on the agenda," said Manon Fillonneau from human rights collective Romeurope.
Among those evicted, "half just benefited from a few nights in a hotel before setting up again a bit further away," Fillonneau added. 
"We need to ask why, with an average of one evacuation every three days since a few years ago, and one every day at the moment, we still have the same number of people living in slums."



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