French authorities on Tuesday cleared hundreds of migrants from two camps, one under a rail bridge in Paris and the other in the northern port of Calais. The clearing of the poor and dirty, makeshift settlements come as European countries debate what to do about the tens of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, many fleeing from conflict and poverty in countries like Libya and Eritrea. Police launched a dawn raid on a camp in northern Paris where more than 350 refugees, most of them from Sudan, but also from Eritrea, Somalia and Egypt have been living.
Authorities had put up signs over the weekend ordering the migrants to leave the camp within 48 hours and early on Tuesday morning police surrounded the site and blocked off nearby traffic.
The refugees, most of them men, but also including several families, boarded nearby buses to be taken to various shelters in the greater Paris area. "We're worried. We've been told they will be put up for several days but we don't know what that means, especially as some of them are here illegally," said Christiane, a local bystander. The camp was broken up calmly while a handful of demonstrators shouted "solidarity with the migrants."
Minister of Health Marisol Touraine said the eviction took place for sanitary reasons. "Camps are places that are always risky in terms of epidemics and health … first and foremost for the people who live there. So the breaking-up of the camp is a response to a … health need," she told French radio. "We need to make sure that all of them are quickly rehoused and in good conditions," she added.
In a bid to reach Britain, 385 migrants had been living in desperate humanitarian conditions near the La Chapelle Paris metro station in the 18th arrondissement close to the Gare du Nord station. Because of the burgeoning flow of migrants fleeing war, poverty or persecution in the Middle East and Africa, the humanitarian situation has become precarious as the region could face an epidemic due to poor sanitary conditions, Meanwhile, some 300 kilometers to the north, police evicted around 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps in Calais, again without violent resistance. One of the camps was very close to the Channel Tunnel through which migrants seek to reach Britain. "There was no official information," said Cecile Bossy from the charity group Doctors of the World (MdM). "When the authorities arrived, everyone ran off. The police asked them to take their stuff and leave," she said.
Tensions in the Calais camps have led to sporadic outbreaks of violence. Around 2,500 migrants, mostly from Sudan, Eritrea and Syria, lived in the makeshift tent village in Calais known as "the jungle." As migrants move further north on to Calais, they find the makeshift refugee camps in northern France are no better than those in Paris. As only a small number of refugees are eligible to enter European countries, those who can find shelter suffer from worsening humanitarian conditions in camps. French authorities relocated hundreds of migrants to the site, dubbed the "New Jungle," an 18-hectare wasteland in the French port city that has been turned into a refugee camp.