Days after police forcibly evicted African migrants from an improvised camp in the north of the French capital, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has announced plans to open a migrant shelter and aid center in the city.
The center, Hidalgo told French channel BFMTV, would provide migrants with up to two weeks of shelter, so that they could "rest and take time to reflect, and work with [migrant aid] organizations" on their asylum claims.
"One thing is for sure: Migrants can't be sleeping outdoors," she said, adding that city officials were currently researching locations and how the center would be run. The center could be in place "within a few weeks," the mayor said.
The proposal was unveiled following Tuesday's controversial eviction of migrants camped outside the Halle Pajol, a renovated warehouse in the capital's 18th arrondissement. The camp had been occupied since the weekend by 100 to 200 Eritreans, Sudanese, Somalians and Ethiopians. According to reports, police violently dispersed migrants around noon, as volunteers were distributing meals.
Some 40 activists and left-wing politicians showed up to try and prevent the evacuation of the camp, but were pushed back by officers. Several activists were arrested, as well as 84 migrants. According to the police, the migrants were detained for identification and to assess whether or not they were planning to file asylum claims.
Many of the migrants evacuated Monday had been living in previously dismantled slums in the same neighborhood. On June 2, police evacuated a slum in La Chapelle, and on June 5, a camp was cleared outside the Saint-Bernard church. The Saint-Bernard Church became a symbol of the immigrant plight in 1996, when it was the scene of an expulsion by the police of migrants who had taken refuge there.
Several Green party and left-wing politicians expressed shock over Monday's eviction, including French Communist Party (PCF) leader Pierre Laurent, who tweeted that he was "revolted" by the government's decision to "send security forces against the refugees at Pajol." Ahead of the raid, Green party officials working for the city "solemnly requested [Paris mayor] Anne Hidalgo to open a shelter for [the migrants] starting this evening." In an article published wednesday in French daily Le Monde, president Hollande's former housing minister Cécile Duflot described France's current migration policy as "an ethical Waterloo."
Meanwhile, Jean Marie Le Guen, the secretary of state in charge of relations with parliament, sought to reassure the public about Hidalgo's announcement.
"Obviously, no one is envisioning a new Sangatte in Paris," he told Europe 1 listeners on Wednesday, referring to the northern city of Calais' infamous migrant center, which housed thousands of illegal immigrants between 1999 and 2002.
According to the police, those migrants that had filed an asylum claim would be rehoused while their applications were processed.
"If no asylum claim was filed, and there is no reason [for a migrant] to remain in France, it could mean they will be transferred to a detention center, or be forced to leave the country," a police spokesman told French daily Le Figaro.
Following the police intervention on Monday, government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said that, "The government's approach was humane, and was centered on the clear enforcement of law and authority."
A number of media sources have reported that at least one migrant was injured in the evacuation.
On Tuesday, Jacques Toubon, the French government's official Human Rights Defender, opened an official investigation into police violence against migrants.
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