French police say they evacuated several makeshift settlements in Paris on Tuesday, evicting refugees and other migrants from the tents they’d been living in for months. The operation, which involved about 350 officers, unfolded without reports of violence or injury.
“The government will take us into houses. I don’t know where but it’s fine,” said one erstwhile resident quoted by Al-Jazeera. He told the news agency that many of the people living in the camps had been there for three months or more.
The settlements, which authorities say were composed mostly of migrants and refugees from Afghanistan and Africa, had grown up around a major thoroughfare near a government-run refugee center established last year, according to The Associated Press. The news service says some 1,600 people were affected, while Reuters and other media outlets place the number around 1,000.
Paris has been seeking to shift migrants to “welcome centers” such as the one adjacent to the camps, though they grapple with limited space in the facilities.
“We wanted to have a place where people were treated with dignity,” Bruno Morel, the head of a center called Emmaus, told NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley. “And we wanted to get them off the street. In the street you’re struggling to survive, so you can’t possibly do what you need to restart your life. And you’re prey for smugglers and traffickers.”
As of last November, Eleanor reported that Paris police had “cleared 22,000 migrants from tent cities on sidewalks and under train trellises” in the span of a year and a half, moving them to migrant centers such as Morel’s.
Last year’s eviction of the massive, squalid “Jungle” encampment near the port of Calais — where more than 6,000 migrants from conflict zones had sought shelter — has placed a strain on other facilities throughout the country.
News of the operation Tuesday comes just days after the election of President-elect Emmanuel Macron, who has embraced a relatively open stance toward migrants, and mere hours after the United Nations announced a potential tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea.
Two ships carrying migrants and refugees wrecked over the weekend, leaving up to 245 people missing and feared dead, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Citing the International Organization for Migration, the group says at least 1,309 migrants and refugees have been killed while trying to cross into Europe through the Mediterranean.