French police have dismantled a makeshift migrant camp located underneath a Metro overpass in north-central Paris. VICE News was on the ground to witness the peaceful evacuation.
The police moved in an hour after dawn to round up the 380 migrants living in the sprawling slum, including many Sudanese and Eritreans. In what looked like a large-scale police operation, officers cordoned off the area and took down tents with the help of city employees. While many of the migrants were shepherded onto buses and taken to emergency shelters in and around Paris, some are expected to continue living on the streets.
Migrant rights activists and local residents were on site to show their support to the migrants, some of whom already have refugee status or have pending asylum applications.
Not all migrants were inside the camp when the police cordoned off the area, and several reported that they had been unable to retrieve their personal belongings. Others who hadn't boarded the buses to the shelters were unsure where they would spend the night.
A migrant named Ahmed told VICE News he had come to Paris after spending some time in the northern port town of Calais. Haron, who has been living in France since 2013, explained that he had arrived in France after fleeing the conflict that began in 2003 in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"I came through a migrant camp in Calais," said Ahmed. "Then I went to Paris, to a drop-in center, and then to this camp. But more and more migrants have arrived here in the last few months. I want to stay in France, but they haven't given me a hotel. I don't know where I will sleep tonight."
Following the evacuation, bulldozers and city services moved in to finish clearing the 250 tents and 50 makeshift beds in the camp. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning, Paris police prefect Bernard Boucault said the evacuation had been ordered because of the "particularly alarming […] sanitary conditions" caused by the cramped conditions in the slum. Boucault also said that authorities were worried about the risk of a dysentery outbreak and scabies epidemic.
Pierre Henry, director of France Terre d'Asile, was on site to help relocate migrants. Speaking to VICE News during the evacuation, he said his organization was on the ground "to support [migrants] and to prevent tensions" during the operation. "We are also making sure they get rehoused, and we have received guarantees to that effect from the authorities: asylum seekers will be housed in refugee centers and others will be placed in emergency shelters."
"The problem will not be solved today," he added. "We're probably going to see some of these migrants on the streets and in Calais."
According to France Terre d'Asile and international solidarity movement Emmaüs, 160 of the 380 migrants they counted in the camp have pending asylum applications. The remaining 220 either have refugee status already or are illegal migrants. According to Paris officials, 74 children and their families are being rehoused by the city. The others have been provided temporary accommodation in hostels in and around Paris.
Some of the migrants were taken to a homeless shelter in the north of Paris known as "La Boulangerie" (The Bakery), which is known for its harsh living conditions. Many of the emergency shelters in and around the capital are already at saturation point. Christine, a volunteer with homeless solidarity group Entraide Citoyenne, told VICE News that she had met migrants "who would rather live in this camp [at La Chapelle] than in the Boulangerie shelter."
Christine explained that she had distributed food to the migrants at La Chapelle, and that she expected to continue doing so. "This morning, I saw a migrant leave with his tent — a Moroccan man who doesn't have refugee status," she told VICE News. "I expect I'll see him again before long."
"My neighbors were afraid of the camp," said a local retiree, who declined to give us his name, but described himself as an environmentalist. "The evacuation went peacefully and there was no violence," he said, adding that the dismantling of the camp was only "a temporary solution."
By end of the morning, a group of migrants, including 28-year-old Basheir Ahmed Moawia, had assembled by the police cordon. "I wasn't here this morning when the police arrived," Moawia explained. "I'm stuck outside."
Moawia told VICE News he had fled the war in Sudan. "I don't know where I'm going to sleep," he said, adding that, despite the evacuation, he was planning to stay on in Paris to look for a job.
Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter @MatthieuJublin