France to probe Paris migrant camp dismantling after ‘shocking’ scuffle images

Gendarmerie forces cross Republique square to evacuate migrants and associations, after they installed tents, in Paris on November 23, 2020.
Gendarmerie forces cross Republique square to evacuate migrants and associations, after they installed tents, in Paris on November 23, 2020. © Martin Bureau, AFP

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Tuesday said he was launching a probe into clashes that broke out late Monday after police cleared out a new migrant camp at Place de la République in the heart of Paris, adding that images of the scuffles were "shocking".


People posted photos and videos on social media of police hitting demonstrators as they moved in to clear the square of migrants' tents, which the police said had been set up without official permission.

"Some of the images of the dispersion of the illegal migrant camp at Place de la République are shocking," Darmanin wrote on Twitter in the early hours of Tuesday, adding that he was seeking a full report into the incident.

The migrant camp at the iconic Place de la République, site of major French demonstrations, emerged just a week after police had cleared out a bigger, illegal migrant campsite near the national sports stadium on the outskirts of the French capital.

< French police clear more than 2,000 people from makeshift migrant camp near Paris

‘They are too violent’

Police used tear gas as they dismantled the new migrant camp of around 500 blue tents, which were set up by volunteers and were quickly filled by migrants, mostly Afghans.

When the police arrived to dismantle the camp, images showed officers picking up tents, sometimes with people still inside, to the protests of migrants and jeers from volunteers.

"They are too violent," sobbed Shahbuddin, a 34-year-old Afghan as he put a grey beanie back on his head after being forced out of his tent. "We just want a roof."

Police later used tear gas to disperse the rest of the camp, driving the migrants out into the streets of central Paris.

Ian Brossart, a deputy of the city's mayor in charge of housing, emergency accommodation and refugee protection, slammed the "law and order response to a social situation".

Migrant issue drives up support for Le Pen

France has joined other European states, such as Italy and Britain, in taking a tougher stance on migrants since the outbreak of the Syria conflict in 2011 triggered a migrant crisis across Europe.

Opinion polls show voters are worried about the issue of migration, which in turn has driven support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is likely to be President Emmanuel Macron's main opponent in the next presidential election in 2022.

Paris is a key stop-off point on the European migrant route, with tented camps repeatedly sprouting up around the city only to be torn down by the police a few months later.

Thousands have travelled from Paris to the port of Calais and attempted to stow away on trucks heading across the Channel to England. A small number attempt the crossing by boat.


Rights groups blast bill restricting police images

The latest clearance comes after the French government approved an amended security bill that would restrict the publication of photos or videos taken of police officers' faces while carrying out their duties in public spaces.

Media unions say this could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses by security forces.

Human rights groups have blasted the new law, which sparked protests in Paris and other French cities over the weekend.

The government says the proposal is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. Critics fear that, if enacted, the measure would endanger journalists and other observers who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent demonstrations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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