French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says he is launching a probe into clashes that broke out late on Monday as police cleared out a refugee camp in Paris’ Place de la Republique, adding that images of the scuffles were “shocking”.
People posted photos and videos online of police hitting demonstrators as officers forcibly removed refugees from tents. Activists and refugee rights advocates who went to the square to help the refugees were also pushed back, among them Paris councilwoman Danielle Simonet from the left-wing La France insoumise party.
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“Some of the images of the dispersion of the illegal migrant camp at Place de la Republique are shocking,” Darmanin tweeted, in the early hours of Tuesday.
An internal police investigation into allegations of misconduct by police during the camp clearance has been opened; conclusions are expected to be published within 48 hours.
Police said the camp was set up without official permission.
Aid groups were on Tuesday attempting to find temporary shelter for a few hundred refugees and migrants forcibly removed from the short-lived camp.
Police lifted tents with people inside, shaking them until they tumbled to the ground, and those who resisted were kicked or beaten with batons, according to the head of Doctors Without Borders in France, Corinne Torre.
Most are from Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea. Some have been refused asylum while others are in bureaucratic limbo while they try to apply, Torre said.
The camp at Place de la Republique emerged just a week after police had cleared out a bigger campsite near the French national sports stadium.
The Paris police headquarters said the Republique camp had been evacuated because it was illegal, adding that it “invited” people to seek lodging offered by state or aid groups instead.
Many refugees and migrants have moved to Paris since the closure of a huge camp in Calais in 2016.
Authorities have repeatedly dismantled unauthorised campsites, only for them to pop up again elsewhere within months.
Twitter users took to the platform to voice their discontent with the move, with many criticising authorities for their actions.
I’m so ashamed to be French when I see what law and order means for dozens of migrants camping at Place de la République. It IS in the French tradition to be an asylum land.
— Edie 🦋 (@EdieWine) November 24, 2020
The disgusting events that took place last night in Paris. The use of the Police & violence is the only answer from macron’s regime. Poor France😢
“In tight ranks, the gendarmerie is back to push activists and refugees out of the place de la Republique” https://t.co/EBEbofxVA2
— Margaret Morel (@MargaretMorel1) November 24, 2020
— Sylvia Solanas (@SylviaSolanas) November 23, 2020
Some wondered whether the policy will ever change.
Time and time again police dismantle camps and confiscate #migrants‘ tents, knowing they have no alternative housing. Usually it’s in Calais or the outskirts of Paris. This time: at Place de la République. With more eyes watching – and condemning the policy – will it change? https://t.co/yggzCf3izs
— Yena Lee (@yenatweet) November 23, 2020
What kind of values were law enforcement officers at the Place de la République displaying last night? Republican values?
— Kartik Raj (@Kartik__Raj) November 24, 2020
France has joined other European states, such as Italy and Britain, in taking a tougher stance on undocumented arrivals since the outbreak of the Syria conflict in 2011 triggered a migration crisis across Europe.
Opinion polls show voters are worried about the issue of migration, which in turn has driven support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is likely to be President Emmanuel Macron’s main opponent in the next presidential election in 2022.
The latest evacuation came as French politicians consider a draft law meant to expand some police powers and provide greater protection to police.
The draft law makes it a crime to publish images of police officers with the intent to cause them harm, a measure that has been protested by civil liberties campaigners and media freedom groups who argue that the ability to capture and share images and video of the police at work is essential for efforts to curb brutality and hold accountable those who inflict violence on civilians.
The clashes also came at a time when France is once again on its highest security alert.
Since early September, there have been several attacks across the country, following the republication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, something most Muslims find deeply offensive, by satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.