Police clear migrant camp near Paris City Hall as Olympics approach

French police evicted migrants from a makeshift tent-camp next to Paris City Hall early on Tuesday, in the latest clearing out of people without homes that aid groups allege is a campaign to beautify the French capital ahead of the Summer Olympics. In an operation that began before dawn, police woke around 100 teenage boys and young men from West Africa, telling them to pack their tents and belongings. The police said the operation was carried out for security reasons, notably because the camp was near schools. Paris-region officials told the men — many of them minors and in the process of seeking residency papers — that they could be housed temporarily for three weeks in the Loire-region town of Angers if they wished. A bus was waiting in a nearby street to take them first to a Paris-region transit center. Only two or three men boarded the bus. Most of the others walked away, carrying their belongings. Some said they feared being left isolated and abandoned in Angers, 150 miles southwest of the French capital, once the three weeks of temporary accommodation run out. Those evicted from camps and squats are liable to set up makeshift settlements elsewhere in the French capital and be cleared out again, says a campaign group that has been sounding the alarm about impact on marginalized people. “It’s a never-ending cycle,” said Antoine de Clerck, a spokesman for the Revers de la Médaille group, which translates as “the other side of the medal.” “We call it ‘nettoyage social,’ or social cleansing, as there’s no proper solution(s) that are proposed to the people,” he added. He alleged that people are being swept aside to make “room for the beautiful Paris postcard.” In a written order that announced Tuesday’s clear-out in advance, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said the makeshift camp was made up of more than 80 tents and was blocking pavements. The order also noted that the camp was near public buildings, including a church and City Hall, where security has been increased because France is on heightened alert against possible terrorism threats. Migrant camps are commonly dismantled every spring with the end of an annual winter-time “truce” that limits evictions and evacuations when the weather is cold. Paris City Hall says the number of people living rough on the streets has swelled to 3,500, 500 more than at the same time last year. Aid groups working with migrants and other vulnerable people say clear-outs are intensifying ahead of the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics. They say that people are being sent far from the capital instead of being offered shelter in the Paris region, where many asylum-seekers have upcoming court dates and meetings with officials about their residency requests.