Thousands of migrants to be ‘quickly’ cleared out of Paris canal camps

Thousands of migrants living in camps along stretches of canal in Paris are set to be moved out "quickly" in what is the 35th evacuation to have taken place in the French capital since summer 2015, the French government has announced.

Thousands of migrants to be 'quickly' cleared out of Paris canal camps
Tents on the side of the Canal Saint Martin canal where migrants have been staying. Photo: AFP
Around 2,300 migrants have been living in makeshift camps along the canals in the north east of the French capital for months. 
And now the Interior Ministry has asked the Paris police to step in to evacuate the camps, saying that Paris City Hall has “regrettably” failed to “request the evacuation of the public area” themselves. 
Today the camps pose “humanitarian issues” that “are no longer bearable for Parisians,” Minister of the Interior Gerard Collomb said, stressing that “the role of the City of Paris will be essential in the preparation of this operation because if the camps are reconstructed” it will have been “useless”.
The minister also questioned the city's accommodation effort, saying that while “40 percent of the French asylum applications” go to Ile-de-France, Paris “only offers 2 percent of the accommodation available for asylum seekers” in France.  
Collomb said that the operation would provide “shelter” but also allow “administrative controls” to be carried out.
He added that he sees this operation as an opportunity “to be able to welcome those who can benefit from the protection” of France but warned that it will also present a chance “to remove those who are not destined to remain on French territory”.
This will mark the 35th operation of kind to take place in Paris since summer 2015. 
Photo: AFP
Two camps have been growing for several months in the north east of Paris, especially in the northern Villette area — where some 1,600 people live in alarming conditions. 
An additional 600 people, mainly Afghans, are sleeping in a tent city along the trendy Canal Saint-Martin, where the recent drowning of a migrant increased concerns over the camps. 
Migrants camped along the Canal Saint Martin recently told The Local of the squalid conditions they are living in as aid groups called on authorities to address ever-worsening situation, which they say will lead to security and health risks.
Abdul Jabar, 24, from Afghanistan has only been in France for the past five days, but his journey from Afghanistan took him 6 months.
He travelled from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Iran to Turkey to Bulgaria to Serbia, and then hopped on a truck to France.
“It's very bad here. I have no bed no food and no shower and it's very cold at night,” said Jabar who says his parents encouraged him to make the journey and ask for asylum. 
When asked if he regrets the journey though, he says no. “Here there are no bombs.” Jabar says he seeks schooling, work, and a better life in France.
In July 2017, Paris police moved out 2,500 migrants who had been living rough in the north of the city.
Paris calls for urgent help to house city's 2,000 canal migrants
Photo: AFP

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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.