Paris police accused of clearing out migrant camp in pre-Olympics ‘social cleansing’

French police have evicted migrants from a makeshift camp in Paris a few steps away from the Seine River

Jade Le Deley,Nicolas Garriga
Tuesday 23 April 2024 11:27 BST
Activists help migrants to pack their belongings in a makeshift camp, early Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Paris
Activists help migrants to pack their belongings in a makeshift camp, early Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Paris (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

French police have evicted migrants from a makeshift camp in Paris just a few steps away from the Seine River, the latest operation in what aid groups call a campaign of ‘’social cleansing'' ahead of the Summer Olympics.

Before dawn on an unusually cold April morning, around 30 teenage boys and young men from West Africa were awakened by police and urged to pack their tents and belongings. Most of them were underage and in the process of seeking residency papers.

"I was already scared but I am even more scared because I don’t know where to go,” said Boubacar Traore, 16, who said he fled conflict in Burkina Faso and arrived in France two months ago.

The operation came days after police carried out a large-scale eviction at France’s biggest squatter camp in a suburb south of Paris.

Such evictions and evacuations of migrant tent camps happen every spring after the end of a winter ‘’truce'' during which authorities put such actions on hold.

Activists help migrants to pack their belongings in a makeshift camp, early Tuesday, April 23
Activists help migrants to pack their belongings in a makeshift camp, early Tuesday, April 23 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

But aid groups working with migrants and other vulnerable people in the Paris region say these efforts are intensifying ahead of the Olympics. They note that people are being sent far away from the capital instead of being offered shelter in the Paris region, where many asylum-seekers have upcoming court dates.

“The authorities want to have a clean place for the Olympics Games. They don’t want the tourists to see Paris as a city full of migrants and asylum seekers,” Elias Hufganel, a volunteer with a group serving refugees and immigrants, said at the Paris tent camp Tuesday.

Paris police said the operation was carried out for security reasons, notably because the tent camp was near schools.

In a nearby street stood two large buses heading to Besançon, 400 kilometers (240 miles) southeast of Paris. Authorities proposed to relocate the young men there and offered them housing for three weeks. But most didn’t want to take up that offer, fearing being even more isolated and with no plan after the three weeks run out.

Traore was among those who refused to travel because he is awaiting a court date in Paris in two days. It was unclear where he would sleep Tuesday night.

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