French riot police swooped on an illegal migrant camp in north-eastern Paris just after dawn on Monday, sparking a brief standoff at a site where numbers have soared since the closure of the Jungle camp in the northern port city of Calais.
The operation, largely consisting of identity checks on some of an estimated 2,500 migrants sleeping rough around a canal and urban train bridge near Paris’s Stalingrad metro station, came as pressure mounts on the government to clear and shut the camp.
Tension has risen in tandem with 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 tentacular sprawl of tents, mattresses, blankets and the meagre belongings of migrants who come in large part from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.
Migrants shouted at police in riot gear as the digger swept debris and rubbish away in a small section of the camp, which was otherwise left largely intact. One policeman sprayed a migrant with tear gas.
After a couple of hours, police allowed migrants to move back in after a tidy-up by municipal cleaning workers.
In a letter sent to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo requested that the camp be shut rapidly on humanitarian and sanitary grounds.
City Hall officials say the numbers living and 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 6,000 people were living, most of them in the hope of making it across the short Channel sea crossing to Britain.
The Calais camp, a vast shanty town on sandy scrubland where demolition workers were due to finish their destruction job by the end of Monday, came to symbolise Europe’s fraught efforts to cope with a record influx of migrants fleeing strife and poverty in countries from Afghanistan to Sudan.
French President Francois Hollande urged Britain at the weekend to shoulder its part of the responsibility for 1,500 minors who have been housed temporarily in container boxes in Calais following the clearout. The rest of the 6,000-plus inhabitants of the Jungle have been dispatched to lodgings across France, pending examination of their asylum cases.
“It’s up to Britain now to fully live up to its duty, that’s not finished yet,” said Pascal Brice, the head of France’s refugee agency, Ofpra.