A "Jungle" style migrant camp has sprung up in the heart of Paris with thousands of African migrants sleeping rough across the city. And the Socialist major is blocking their removal.
The crisis is a repeat of the Calais migrant camp, which had to be forcibly closed down for a second time in 2016.
Some 2 500 African migrants are currently living in extremely unhealthy conditions on the streets of the French capital but they can not be removed because the Socialist mayor refuses to agree to a government plan to clear them out.
French police have already cleared out some 28 000 migrants from camps in the capital in the past three years, but the arrivals have not slowed down.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo says the government should shoulder the financial responsibility of moving the asylum seekers. She has called for the migrants to be moved to reception centres and given aid.
Benjamin Griveaux, a spokesperson for the government, said that this would be the 35th operation to “shelter” migrants since 2015. “Paris has always been a welcoming city, (…) but it turns out that [among] the people (…) who were welcomed in Paris, 95 percent were sent back to the suburbs.”
He said it was Hidalgo’s responsibility to pay for the reception of migrants and accused Hidalgo of shirking her responsibilities as mayor. “If you pretend to be a humanitarian, you should give yourself the means to have the policy of generosity that you defend,” he quipped during an interview with radio Europe1.
Griveaux told Europe1 on Thursday: “We are stepping into Anne Hidalgo’s shoes because she neglected her political responsibility to evacuate the camps.”
Hidalgo told AFP in April that she had asked the central government to find shelter in the city but received “no response” from the administration. “If nothing is done, in two weeks there will be 3 000,” she warned at the time. The greater Paris region currently has room to shelter only 750 migrants.
When the Calais migrants were dispersed to reception centres across France in 2016, many returned to Calais but some made their way to the capital, mainly in the north-east of Paris, on the Canal Saint-Martin where they have no toilets or running water. They urinate and defecate on the streets.
According to Interior minister Gérard Collomb, the government wants to deport those who are not eligible for asylum. Collomb said police were preparing to evacuate the migrants. He said he had no choice but to order the removal of the estimated 1400 people living at the largest camp as well as other smaller ones dotted around Paris.
Collomb warned this week that police would carry out identity checks during the evacuation operation. But both UNICEF France and the French Red Cross, have denounced Collomb’s evacuation plans as an affront to basic human rights.
The French Communist Party also issued a statement to defend the mayor: “For several months now, more than 2 500 migrants have been living rough on the streets of Paris – either in tents or along the canal Saint-Martin and the canal de l’Ourcq – in deplorable hygienic conditions that defy human dignity.
“[The sordid tent camps] are the result of the president’s and the government’s migration policy: a policy of deterrence designed to make the lives of men and women in need of protection and asylum impossible. After Calais and the Roya Valley, Paris joins the inhumane policy’s list of shame.
“The new immigration and asylum law and the government’s refusal to open new reception centres and implement an effective migrant support policy will only serve to aggravate the situation.”
France received a record 100 000 asylum applications last year. Some 30 000 people, official figures show, received refugee status, while expulsions numbered around 14 000, AFP reported.
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