By Matthias Blamont and Cyril Camu
PARIS – French police removed thousands of migrants on Friday from a squalid camp in northeast Paris that had doubled in size after the closure last week of the “Jungle” camp in Calais.
Police moved in at daybreak. They said later that 3,852 migrants had been relocated, many of them to sports halls or other public facilities before being transferred to holding centres pending screening of their asylum requests.
“It’s finished,” a spokesman for the Paris prefect of police said following an operation that lasted four or five hours, after which rubbish trucks and street cleaners moved in to clear tents, mattresses and rubbish.
The Socialist government ordered the operation days after the larger Calais camp on the northern coast was torn down.
Some 600 police were deployed in the peaceful Paris clearout following a tense confrontation with migrants at the same site on Monday during a swoop by officers to carry out identity checks.
The number of migrants sleeping rough in the sprawl of small tents near Paris’s Stalingrad metro station had swollen in recent days.
Some of the first buses departed amid cheering and, in some cases, cries of solidarity with the migrants from bystanders.
“Yeah, I’m gonna go on the bus because I trust this procedure because I’ve seen it before,” Nigerian Emmanuel Omorodion, 22, told Reuters.
“I think now is a chance to get a home. I spent one month in Calais, come over here, two months in the streets, terrible, so I hope this is very good.”
Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Paris authorities would house several hundred vulnerable women and children as two new temporary camps were being built in the city’s outskirts.
CALLS TO SCRAP BORDER DEAL
The Paris and Calais camps have come to symbolise Europe’s fraught efforts to deal with a record influx of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said 85 percent of the Calais migrants are expected to qualify for asylum.
Diplomatic tensions between France and Britain, where anti-immigrant sentiment was a driver in the vote to leave the European Union, have escalated over who should take care of the Calais migrants. Many dream of reaching Britain, tantalisingly close to Calais across the Channel.
France’s Socialist government has been torn, ahead of next year’s presidential election, between the rise of the anti-immigrant National Front and demands that refugees be treated humanely.
In a televised debate on Thursday, conservative candidates all said Britain must manage asylum-seekers on its own territory rather than leave the task to France.
“Be it Calais or Paris, we’re doing our bit to deal with the migration issue,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
(Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Roche)