Paris police cleared hundreds of Roma people including families and young children from a slum in northern Paris Wednesday at the request of the landowner, France’s state rail company SNCF.
On a cold, windy day under a light drizzle of rain, police began clearing the camp, which stood on a disused railway track known as the “Petite Ceinture” (Little Belt) in the 18th arrondissement of the French capital, at around 6.30 am Wednesday morning.
“I live just next door. I heard the diggers very early this morning and I came down to watch the police evacuating people,” said Josie, a local resident in her 50s who describes herself as a “socialist activist”.
“It’s important that they [the police] know we are watching them,” she added, looking on as bulldozers began razing the makeshift shacks. “It’s important that they know that they work without our approval.”
'Mostly families with children’
The evacuation of the slum, known as the “Little Paris Jungle” in reference to the large “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais, was ordered by the Paris High Court at the end of last year following a complaint filed by SNCF.
The camp, which sprang up in the spring of 2015 and has been expanding ever since, was home to around 300 people, living in squalid and, according to authorities, dangerous conditions.
Paris police said that during a recent visit to the site they found “particularly serious hygiene problems” and “the use of rudimentary cooking methods that were a fire hazard”.
By the time the police arrived on Wednesday morning, many of the camps residents had already left in the knowledge that the evacuation was imminent.
"When the police arrived, there were about 80 people in the camp,” said Manon Fillonneau of the Roma rights group RomEurope, who had been at the camp for two hours and was shivering with cold.
“As there were few people, mostly families with children, everything went peacefully. There was no rush,” he added.
With around half of France’s 20,000-strong Roma population believed to live in the Paris area, many of the camp’s former inhabitants may have sought refuge in other nearby slums.
“Others perhaps left for Romania," says Philippe Goossens, a member of the French Human Rights League, another of the groups present for the evacuation. "It is not uncommon that they temporarily return home for a few weeks before coming back to France."
‘Why don’t we have any rights?’
By around 8 am the slum had been completely cleared, with police carrying out a final sweep before the bulldozers moved in. By then, the camp’s former occupants were long gone, queuing up before sunrise, meagre possessions in their arms, to board busses to take them to alternative accommodation elsewhere in the capital's Ile-de-France region.
“There are rats here, but it’s better than in Romania,” a man named Deniser told AFP as he boarded a bus with his wife and children. “We are Europeans, why don’t we have any rights?”
France has repeatedly come under fire for its policy towards its Roma population in recent yeares.
Last year, French police evicted 11,000 members of the Roma community in total, including 300 people from France’s oldest Roma camp in La Courneuve, Seine-Saint-Denis, just outside of Paris.
Rights groups have blasted the state for their treatment of the Roma and raised concerns over long-term futures for those evicted.
“It's always the same story,” says Goossens. “The emergency accommodation hosts them for a couple of nights, and then they're back on the street.”
“It’s always easier to expel people than to find sustainable solutions,” adds Fillonneau.
Date created : 2016-02-03