French police have cleared out around 1,000 people from the largest makeshift migrant camp in Paris, which had become a focal point in the county’s immigration debate.
The mainly African migrants were moved out of their tent camp along a canal used by joggers and cyclists on the capital’s north-east edge, before being put in buses and taken to gymnasiums in the region as bulldozers ripped out the tents.
Several hundred migrants apparently fled before the evacuation.
Two migrants drowned this month in canals along encampments and others have been injured amid rising tensions in the filthy, crowded camps, adding pressure on authorities to act.
The evacuation was delayed for months amid bickering over what to do with the migrants.
The encampment held at least 1,400 migrants, local officials have said, but 1,016 were evacuated. Two other makeshift camps in Paris holding some 1,000 migrants are expected to be cleared next week.
Police have cleared out around 28,000 migrants from Paris camps in the past three years, but the arrivals continue.
President Emmanuel Macron wants a tough response to migrants arriving in France. Two days ago, he nevertheless opened the way to citizenship and a job for a Malian migrant who scaled a building and saved a young child dangling from a balcony in what Mr Macron called “an exceptional act”.
A video of Mamoudou Gassama’s feat went viral, gaining him the nickname Spiderman.
The camps have been at the heart of a political debate between French interior minister Gerard Collomb and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo over how to handle migrants. The mayor and dozens of associations pressed for the migrants to be sheltered once dislodged from their encampments, as in the past.
Ms Hidalgo, who has paid weekly visits to the encampment, said she was pleased that the migrants were being taken to shelters, but added: “I think we could have done without the four-month wait.”
City Hall has spent 30 million euro (£26.2 million) since 2015 helping refugees, bolstering state aid, as well as 80 million euro (£70 million) each year on isolated minors.
“This is an issue of dignity,” said Pierre Henry, head of an aid group, France Terre D’Asile. “Street camps should not exist in our country.”