Police in Paris forcibly moved almost 1,000 migrants early on Wednesday from a squalid camp under the elevated Stalingrad metro station, in the north of the city.
The operation to clear the camp was carried out jointly by the police, city authorities, and the French Office of Immigration and Integration. For security reasons, traffic was interrupted along the boulevard that runs alongside the camp, and the Stalingrad metro station was temporarily closed.
Speaking to VICE News on Tuesday, Qayoom, an Afghan national from Nangarhar province, described dismal living conditions at the camp: "Even animals don't live like this," he said. Before he fled the unrest in Afghanistan, Qayoom owned a store.
"We eat food that's past its sell-by date, people are sick, everything is wet," he told VICE News.
Wednesday's operation unfolded calmly, with migrants boarding buses at dawn. A spokesperson for the city said that the migrants were being driven to emergency accommodation in and around the French capital.
The migrants will be housed by the city for up to a month, unless they file an asylum claim, in which case the accommodation will be extended for the duration of the asylum process. According to the authorities, 941 migrants were rehoused this morning, including 50 women with children, who were given special help from the city.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that they were "committed to solving [the crisis] and to preventing camps from being built in Paris and in the Île-de-France [the region surrounding the capital], by providing shelter and guidance to migrants."
The statement also noted that the Stalingrad camp had been completely cleared.
In June 2015, police evacuated nearly 400 migrants from a camp near the La Chapelle metro station. According to the city, authorities have rehoused nearly 6,500 migrants since then.
The Stalingrad camp was already evacuated on March 7, 2015, when 393 migrants were offered alternative accommodation in the city. At the time, a number of migrants said they had missed the buses chartered to take them to the emergency housing, and had returned to their former location.
Over the past three weeks, a growing number of Afghan, Somali, Eritrean and Sudanese migrants had found shelter under the elevated metro tracks in the north of the city. Migrants lived in squalid conditions, surrounded by trash and with no bathrooms. Residents of the camp relied on locals and neighborhood businesses for provisions.
Conditions were particularly rough for the many children who lived in the camp, and were forced to sleep under wet blankets, on damp mattresses laid down on the ground.
Just a few hours before the evacuation, migrants inside the camp were alone but for a handful of volunteers. Zabit, an Afghan national who has been living in France since December 2014, had traveled to the camp to help with translation.
"Some [volunteer] groups come at night, around 9pm," he told VICE News. "They bring food, blankets. Sometimes, we bring people to the hospital." Zabit shares an apartment in Paris with three other Afghans, who also come to the camp in the day to help with interpreting.
"A number of people went to Calais, but came back here. Many of them just want a house in France," said Zabit. The numbers released by Paris city hall appear to confirm Zabit's assessment. According to city authorities, a vast majority of migrants who are rehoused in Paris go on to claim asylum in France, and do not continue on to the UK.
Wednesday's evacuation marks the 19th camp-clearing police operation in the city since June 2015.
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