Outrage as immigrants are evicted after flat fires

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The Independent Online

The French government is facing mounting criticism over its eviction of hundreds of illegal immigrants from Parisian squats following three fatal fires in the capital. Housing officials have condemned the policy as "brutal" and short sighted.

Two dilapidated apartment blocks, home to about 140 African immigrants in the poor 19th arrondissement of Paris, have already been cleared.

The government initiative, announced last week in response to a spate of fires in run-down accommodation which claimed 40 lives, is aimed at reducing the number of people living in housing considered dangerous by city authorities.

But plans by the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, to close down about 60 squats and about 1,000 flats in the greater Paris region have provoked outrage among the city's immigrant population and housing officials, who claim that they have been introduced without adequate planning.

"Turning out squatters - what a pathetic response," Jean Baptiste Eyraud, president of DAL, the housing rights association, told the newspaper Libération. "The logic you'd expect from a normal government would be to ensure the security and the accommodation of its people."

Police have carried out a series of early-morning visits to buildings considered unfit for habitation, maintaining squatters have no right to occupy buildings "known ... to expose occupants to risk". A resident of one squat on Rue de Tanger in the 19th arrondissement expressed contempt for the eviction project as police made their inspection of the run-down apartment and inner courtyard overflowing with rubbish. "That's it then- it's all planned out?" asked the resident. "Are they going to kick out all the people with their families and put them in front of the city halls? Is that what they call a good solution?"

It is estimated that some 13,000 families, the majority of them immigrants from west Africa, will be affected by the evictions. Pressure groups, stressing the need for immediate investment in public housing, are accusing the Paris authorities of failing to requisition sufficient private accommodation to house them.

"I think closing down squats is a very good idea- but it is a very bad idea to close them down without making adequate preparations for re-housing," René Dutrey, director of the housing quango Seimp, told The Independent. "As it is, this will solve nothing. These brutal evictions are ruining everything our social workers have achieved. Immigrants without permits are just going to go back to illegality and the others to hostels. The best thing that can be done now is to immediately find accommodation for these people. There are 40,000 vacant apartments in Paris. Why aren't they requisitioning them?"