LA COURNEUVE, France (AP) — Police cleared out one of France’s biggest and oldest Roma camps on Thursday, dismantling a sprawling network of makeshift shelters next to a Paris region highway in the pouring rain.
The evacuation of around 200 people (pictured above) lasted around 2 ½ hours and after it was done, 50 people milled about on the streets of La Courneuve, despite the town’s promises to give them either urgent housing or hotel vouchers.
Hugues Besancenot, secretary general of the Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris, said around 60 women, children and disabled camp residents received vouchers for urgent housing. The others were sent to a homeless shelter hotline.
“They did nothing for us. They said there’s no place for me,” said Brindus Dan, who lived in the camp with his wife and three children, including a 6-month-old baby, for four years.
Residents had six months to prepare for the evacuation since a court ordered it shut last February. Police gave a final warning Tuesday, Besancenot said.
Thousands of Roma, also known as Gypsies, live in France, and face routine discrimination and evacuations. Their camps tend to lack water and electricity, and authorities often cite sanitary reasons for dismantling them.
In Thursday’s action, police came through to tell residents to leave and bulldozers arrived in mid-afternoon, according to Manon Fillonneau of the European Roma Rights Group. Families grabbed their belongings and gathered along a road or beneath a cafe awning.
Authorities reserved 12 rooms for residents in extreme need, she said, calling that not nearly enough.
The mayor of La Courneuve wouldn’t immediately comment.
Loic Gandais, whose association works with Roma, said it’s one of the largest and longest-lasting Roma camps in France, housing up to 300 people for at least three years.