French riot police have swooped on a makeshift migrant camp in northeast Paris, sparking a brief standoff at a site where numbers have soared since the closure of the Jungle shantytown in the northern port city of Calais.
The operation, largely consisting of identity checks on some of an estimated 2500 migrants sleeping rough around a canal and railway bridge near Paris’s Stalingrad metro station, came as pressure mounts on the government to shut the camp.
Tension has risen with the speculation that police will move in to evacuate and close the camp definitively in the coming days, as the Paris authorities are demanding.
A Reuters journalist at the scene said a digger moved in to clear a small part of the camp, a sprawl of tents, mattresses, blankets and the meagre belongings of migrants who come mostly from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.
Migrants shouted at police as the digger swept debris and rubbish away. The camp was otherwise left largely intact. One policeman sprayed a migrant with teargas.
After a couple of hours, police allowed migrants to move back after a tidy-up by municipal cleaning workers.
In a letter sent to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo requested that the camp be shut rapidly on humanitarian and sanitary grounds.
City Hall officials say the numbers sleeping rough in the area have swollen by about a third since the evacuation last week of the Jungle camp in Calais, where more than 6000 people were living, most of them in the hope of making it across the short Channel sea crossing to Britain.
The Calais camp, where demolition teams finished tearing down unoccupied shacks and tents on Monday, came to symbolise Europe’s fraught efforts to cope with a record influx of migrants fleeing strife in countries from Afghanistan to Sudan.
President Francois Hollande urged Britain at the weekend to shoulder its responsibility for some of the 1500 minors housed temporarily in converted shipping containers in Calais following the clearout.
An Interior Ministry official said talks were continuing with Britain, which is obliged under EU rules to take in minors with verified family ties in Britain.
– Johnny Cotton and Emmanuel Jarry