PARIS (AP) — Paris police evacuated hundreds of migrants Tuesday from a makeshift tent camp near a major train station and tourist area, then bulldozed their leftover debris from a patch of pavement that had become a symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis.
The migrants, mostly from East Africa, took agonizing journeys to reach the French capital but have found themselves in legal limbo, with little prospects for asylum or jobs.
Anger at their presence and concerns about health issues have mounted among locals. In response, police in dozens of vehicles roped off the area near the famed Sacre Coeur basilica and the Gare du Nord train station on Tuesday and sent in specialists to encourage the migrants to leave.
Migrants slowly gathered their meager belongings and clambered into buses at the camp. The site, where some have been living for months, is near the Eurostar train tracks to Britain.
Many migrants said this was not the Europe that they expected: Sleeping outside beneath the rumble of subway trains, waiting for asylum applications to be processed.
“The government just suddenly decided to evacuate this place. Nobody knows what happened,” said a 20-year-old migrant from Sudan, who gave his name only as Salah. “I don’t know where they are going to take us, what they are going to do to us.”
Behind the police barricade, several demonstrators shouted support for the migrants as the buses drove away. Then bulldozers moved in, plowing through the tents.
Paris police chief Bernard Boucault said the action was taken because of the health risks the migrants faced, including scabies, dysentery and parasite infection.
Officials said about a third of the 380 people in the camp had applied for asylum in France, while most of the others were planning to head to places like Britain, Germany and the Nordic countries.
Dominique Versini, an aide to Mayor Anne Hidalgo, said city social services took the asylum-seekers to housing as part of regular asylum procedures. Those not seeking asylum in France were being “redirected” into emergency state housing, he said. Authorities have said such state housing is already overloaded and straining to keep up with a surge of migrants.
Mathias Vicherat, Hidalgo’s chief of staff, said measures will be taken to ensure that the migrants cannot return to the Paris site.
The evacuation comes as the European Union is seeking better ways to handle the flood of migrants this year. One controversial plan is to divide up the tens of thousands of refugees arriving on Mediterranean shores in smugglers’ boats among all 28 EU nations — a move to help share the burden that is crushing Italy and Greece.
Nicolas Garriga contributed to this report.
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