French police clear out sprawling migrant camps in northern Paris

Police in Paris launched a major operation on Thursday morning to clear out the makeshift camps on the northern edge of the city where hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers had been living in squalid conditions.

French police clear out sprawling migrant camps in northern Paris
Illustration photo of migrants being cleared from a camp in Paris in July 2017. Photo: AFP

Around 600 French police took part in the evacuation which began in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Between 1,500 to 3,000 migrants, including 250 women and children, had been living in the camps that had sprung up alongside major roads, underneath motorway flyovers and bridges around the Porte de la Chapelle area of northern Paris.


The camps were also adjacent to a notorious Paris spot known as “crack hill”, where drug dealers congregate and sell cheap crack cocaine to addicts and migrants.

As usual when migrant camps have been evacuated in Paris, hundreds were taken by buses to temporary accommodation in sports halls and asylum reception centres across the Paris region.

Photo: Rory Mulholland

But charities have been critical of the clear outs in the past for not providing a permanent solution. Many of those evacuated end up living on the streets once again with new camps forming in a matter of months.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement said on Thursday: “I cannot allow such a dangerous situation to develop, not only for those who set up in the camp but also for motorists. This cannot go on.”

The huge police operation meant roads had to be closed and caused major traffic disruption in the area around Porte de la Chapelle, notably the A1 motorway and the périphérique ring road.


READ MORE: Chaos at the gates of Paris – Inside the Paris migrant camp nobody talks about

The clear-out comes just a day after the President Emmanuel Macron's government announced a raft of measures on immigration, many of which were aimed at toughening the country's policy towards asylum seekers and their access to health care.


“We want to take back control of our migration policy,” said the French PM Edouard Philippe.

The government had announced on Wednesday that the Paris migrant camps would be cleared “before the end of the year”.

The Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has long been calling on the government and police to act.

“I do not understand why the state lets indignity and chaos prosper at the gates of the capital of France,” she said previously.

Speaking at the scene of Thursday's evacuation Hidalgo said: “We are not confronted by a surge in the number of migrants that makes it impossible for us to accommodate them. Our country is capable of welcoming them in a dignified manner.

“The streets are not places to live,” she said. Police are due to clear out camps at nearby Porte d'Aubervilliers in the coming days.

 Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that 16,000 places would be made available in three new migrant centres, an effort to keep migrants from setting up new settlements.

Awa, a 32-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast, said on Thursday that she had been sleeping in a tent at the Porte de la Chapelle since she arrived in France a year ago.

“It's raining, it's cold. I don't know where I will go, but I'm glad to go because I will have a roof over my head tonight,” she said, as she waited in line for a coach, carrying just a backpack.

Earlier this year The Local's freelance reporter Rory Mulholland visited the camp.

“About a hundred metres from “Crack Hill,” a patch of wasteland where dishevelled drug-addicts congregate to buy a fix and where many live rough, a sea of tents stretches out underneath a motorway flyover,” he wrote

“There a few hundred migrants from war-torn or impoverished countries live in appalling conditions, waiting for their next appointment with the migration authorities, who after an initial meeting send them away to fend for themselves for months on end.

“It lies beneath an intersection of the périphérique, the eternally clogged Paris inner ring road, and a series of multi-lane highways leading to the suburbs, and is invisible to most people zooming past overhead.”




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.