Paris police oust African immigrants from squats

2nd September 2005, Comments0 comments

PARIS, Sept 2 (AFP) - Paris police early Friday forcibly removed some 150 African immigrants from two buildings that were declared unsafe following deadly house fires in the French capital over the last week.

PARIS, Sept 2 (AFP) - Paris police early Friday forcibly removed some 150 African immigrants from two buildings that were declared unsafe following deadly house fires in the French capital over the last week.

The evacuations followed a call from Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy for squatters to be evicted from fire-trap properties in order to prevent a repeat of last Friday and Monday nights' disasters, in which 24 Africans died.

There was anger but little resistance from some 70 African immigrants who were told to leave a former print works in the poor 19ème arrondissement at 7.30a.m. An hour later some 80 Ivorians were ordered from a squat in the 14ème arrondissement in the south of the capital.

"I don't understand what they are doing. If you want to expel people, you tell them first. You send them letters. You don't move in like this at first light. Do they take us for animals? Is it because we are black?" said M.Benin, 23, an Ivorian woman moved out of the first squat.

A police statement said the squatters had no "right or title" to be in the buildings "which were known by the security services to expose occupants to risk."

Police had taken steps to ensure that the evacuees "can, in their families, be transported to new and decent accommodation," it said.

The owner of the building in the 14ème arrondissement -- Soferim property company -- said in a statement that the squat had been declared "irremediably uninhabitable" and that electricity had been cut off in the four storeys to reduce the risk of fire.

It said it had offered alternative lodgings to the squatters, but they had been rejected as too distant.

Left-wing politicians and pressure groups condemned the evacuations, saying they did nothing to resolve the long-term problem of housing for the very poor.

"This was a display of force organised for the media ... They have given priority to the use of force, and social problems cannot be resolved by force," said Pierre Castagnou, Socialist party (PS) mayor of the 14ème arrondissement.

Jean-Baptiste Eyraud, head of Rights to Housing (DAL), said: "There were alternatives to simply putting them on the street first thing in the morning. This is great news for the speculators who bought the building at knockdown price because it was squatted and can now resell it for a fortune."

The fires of the last week -- and another at a hotel in April in which 24 Africans died -- have highlighted the lack of decent low-cost housing in the capital, and the difficulties of finding accommodation for immigrants who may have entered the country illegally.

The five-storey building which caught fire on Monday was infested with rats and cockroaches, and had no mains water or electricity. Twenty-two families from the Ivory Coast had been living there.

A political row has broken out, with the Socialist-controlled city hall arguing that the priority should be to provide emergency funds to renovate unsafe buildings rather than remove their inhabitants.

Paris police authories said Thursday they had identified around 60 illegally-inhabited buildings that were at risk of fire and that several evacuations are planned over the coming days.

The city hall has compiled a list of around 1,000 "insalubrious" buildings, with the aim of renovating them all by 2007. However it says its finances are inadequate to move faster and is demanding extra help from the state.

Some 130 Malians who were evacuated after last Friday's fire near Austerlitz station, and who have since been living in a nearby gymnasium, are to be rehoused in some 30 flats across the capital, mayor Bertrand Delanoë said Friday.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, fire, squats, Sarkozy, African immigrants, DAL, Delanoë

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