Paris police started evicting hundreds of migrants Tuesday from a tent camp near a major train station and tourist area — a patch of increasingly crowded pavement that has become a symbol of Europe’s struggle in facing a surge of migrants.
The migrants, mostly from East Africa, took journeys to arrive in the French capital but now find themselves in legal limbo, with little prospect of asylum and slim job chances. Over the weekend police erected signs telling the 350 people they had 48 hours to leave the site voluntarily, or face eviction.
Of those surveyed around 200 are thought to want to get to Britain, whereas the rest are happy to remain in France.
Most of them arrived because of the huge people smuggling operations in the Mediterranean. The traffickers have put around 40,000 people onto make shift boats and attempt to sail them to Italy in the last year alone. Once they are in Italy the EU’s open borders mean they will not be challenged until they get to UK customs in Calais.
Anger at their presence has mounted among local leaders and some residents. In response, dozens of police vehicles and garbage trucks on Tuesday morning surrounded the area, in the shadow of the famed Sacre Coeur basilica and near the Gare du Nord train station.
Migrants slowly gathered their blankets and meager belongings and mounted buses. They have been living near the Eurostar train tracks to Britain, below an elevated metro line, for months.
The migrants’ destination wasn’t immediately clear. Social worker Bruno Morel of aid group Emmaus said some will be taken to centres for asylum-seekers.
Many migrants say this was not the Europe they expected — sleeping outside beneath the rumble of subway trains, waiting for asylum applications to be processed.
The evacuation comes as the EU continues to refuse to return the migrants to their country of origin. Instead they are trying to force member states to divide up the refugees amongst them.
So far this plan has been opposed by the UK who fear having to take tens of thousands of the migrants.
There have also been concerns raised about terrorists hiding among the migrants. This fear was highlighted by Nigel Farage when the issue was debated at a European Parliament sitting in Strasbourg. His warnings appeared to come true when last month a known terrorist was arrested in Milan.
The 22-year-old Moroccan, Abdel Majid Touil, was wanted for the Bardo Museum attack in which 22 people were murdered.
Additional reporting by Associated Press.