French police have forcibly cleared a huge Paris migrant camp where more than 2,000 people lived shoulder-to-shoulder in tents under a motorway overpass.
Around 2,400 migrants, most of them young men from the Middle East and Africa, set fire to their camp under the A1 in Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris last night after police in heavy riot gear arrived.
The nearby metro station was closed for security reasons as officers attempted to control the crowds ahead of the arrival of dozens of buses to remove them this morning.
Police said the operation would ‘guarantee the safety and health of all, especially against COVID-19.’
An officer in heavy riot gear and a face mask stands guard as firemen douse the inferno at the migrant camp last night
A migrant hurls a wooden pallet onto a burning mass of tents and other belongings as riot police moved in to prepare 2,400 people to be moved away from the underpass in Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris last night
A tremendous column of thick black smoke rises from the fire constructed by the migrants last night in furious scenes in the Paris suburbs
Migrants, most of them young men from the Middle East and Africa, sit on the ground as they wait for buses to arrive at their huge camp in Saint-Denis
The ramshackle tents where thousands of migrants slept shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the A1 motorway in Saint-Denis
Migrants start a bonfire in the middle of their camp last night which rapidly spread out of control and sent smoke billowing over the motorway above
Fuel is hurled onto the bonfire as migrants put up a resistance to be being carted off to more secure facilities in the Ile-de-France region
French riot police deal with unruly migrants last night during the evacuation of the colossal camp on the outskirts of Paris
Various bonfires are seen throughout the giant migrant camp
Firemen were dispatched as thick black smoke billowed up from under the overpass near the Stade de France national stadium.
At a press briefing, Paris police prefect Didier Lallement declared the camp ‘not acceptable.’
‘This operation aims to ensure that people with the right to be here are given shelter and those who do not have that right do not remain on French territory.’ The police chief said.
A total of 70 buses were deployed to move the migrants on from around 4.30am.
They will be taken to various holding centres, some of them ill-equipped gymnasiums, ahead of processing by the immigration authorities.
A heavily armoured officer stands guard while firefighters move in to douse the flames last night
A migrant stands with his back to a raging inferno close to the Stade de France stadium on the outskirts of Paris last night
People gather up what little belongings they have as fires burn
Some 70 buses arrived to start carting the migrants off at around 4.30am on Tuesday
A migrant waves from his tent as chaos unfolds behind him
Embers rise into the night sky as the migrants reacted angrily to being moved from their camp
The migrants wait to be moved on beside a bonfire
A group of migrants sit around a bonfire ahead of their removal from the camp
The dismantling of the migrant camp was condemned by some human rights organisations who claimed it was part of ‘an endless and destructive cycle.’
Some claimed there was little mediation and that social workers could have been deployed instead of riot police.
However, others praised the movement of the people, most of them from Afghanistan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, to more secure accommodating.
Pierre Henry, chair of the France terre d’asile (“France country of asylum”) NGO, tweetd: ‘I welcome the sheltering of some 2,000 people, temporary residents of a place of indignity near the Stade de France.’
The pandemic has further complicated the handling of the vulnerable people.
Early last month, Médecins sans frontières published a report on testing at different migrant centres in the Ile-de-France region.
Of the ten emergency facilities analysed, positive Covid-19 results were in the range of 23 and 62 percent.
A riot policeman shines a torch at the camp
Migrants clamber on top of a sign amid their trashed and burning camp
Smoke overflows beneath the motorway where hundreds of tents stand packed together
A migrant woman moves her belongings in a shopping trolley as a policeman stands guard
Police officers in riot gear stand guard last night
French riot police move people on from their trashed camp last night
The burning remains of the migrant camp are watched by the former residents
A makeshift shelter constructed of wooden pallets, a door and tarpaulin sheets goes up in flames