VITRY-SUR-SEINE: French gendarmes stand guard next to migrants waiting with their belongings to be registered by associations members to get to another location. — AFP photos
VITRY-SUR-SEINE: French gendarmes stand guard next to migrants waiting with their belongings to be registered by associations members to get to another location. — AFP photos

France evicts hundreds of migrants ahead of Olympics

Young men, women with children forced to move outside Paris despite having put down roots

VITRY-SUR-SEINE, France: French authorities on Wednesday evicted hundreds of migrants from a squat in a southern suburb of Paris with just 100 days to go until the Olympics, encouraging them to board buses to other parts of France. Charities have accused the authorities of seeking to clear homeless people from the French capital to make it look better for the Games from July 26 to August 11.

The abandoned office building in Vitry-sur-Seine had been home to up to 450 migrants, most of them documented but awaiting social housing, according to non-governmental organizations who visited to help them. Several had left the building earlier in the week after authorities announced the upcoming eviction.

Clutching their belongings in bags, suitcases or trolleys, some 300 people who had remained left calmly on Wednesday morning under the eye of police in riot gear, looking worried about their next step. Most were young men, but several women with children were also among the crowd. One by one, holding documents in plastic folders, they approached immigration officials sitting behind tables to explain their situation in broken French or stilted English.

Buses waited outside, ready to take them to the central city of Orleans or the southwestern city of Bordeaux. But many people said they did not want to leave the Paris region. “I want to stay here,” said Abakar, a 29-year-old from Sudan who did not give his second name. He said he was in Paris to follow a logistics course and had been promised a job in a supermarket.

‘Bordeaux is nice’

At one table, a woman official tried to convince another young man to try his luck in Bordeaux. “You know in France, there isn’t just Paris. Bordeaux is nice, it’s warmer than here,” she said. But he too was attending training in the capital region, and so she directed him to another table where a colleague was in charge of accommodation near Paris.

Merci Daniel, a mother from Sudan, said she had sent her children to stay in a nearby shelter because there was “too much violence” inside the squat. But she did not want to leave the area as she was scared she would no longer see them if she did. An official found her a room at a hotel outside Paris for several days.

Migrant and homeless charities have accused the authorities of seeking to remove the homeless from Paris and its outskirts before tourists arrive for the Olympics. “There are spaces in shelters near Paris, but clearly they want to move them away from the capital. Especially before the Olympics,” said Paul Alauzy, a representative from medical charity Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). Some mayors in rural and small-town France have also become increasingly angry over the transfer of migrants from the capital to their communities. — AFP

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