Paris police dismantle crack users’ camp
Paris police on Wednesday dismantled a camp that is home to over 100 crack users, the latest move in a campaign that has repeatedly displaced the addicts around the capital.
Local residents and aid groups have for years been frustrated by authorities’ failure to either clamp down on open drug dealing and crime in and around the camps or to provide appropriate treatment for users.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter as the evacuation got under way that this time, “1,000 officers will be deployed to prevent the camp from reforming somewhere else”.
An AFP journalist saw large numbers of police surround the rubbish-strewn Square Forceval in northeast Paris from 7:00 am (0500 GMT), with police chief Laurent Nunez on the scene.
By mid-morning, tents, furniture and other items had been mostly removed and cleaning services had arrived, with a few of its inhabitants still visible in the surrounding streets.
The clearance was “inevitable and necessary to make our neighbourhoods habitable again”, said Francois Dagnaud, mayor of Paris’ 19th district.
But the possibility the camp might be reconstituted elsewhere “is a risk that should be on everyone’s mind and that is in no one’s interest,” he added.
Over the past two years, successive evacuations have moved crack users from the Stalingrad square on the city’s Saint-Martin canal, first to a nearby park, and then to their current site alongside the French capital’s ring road.
Tackling the city’s crack problem — visible on the streets for the past three decades — has proved difficult due to the addictiveness of the drug, a cocaine derivative that sells for as little as 10 euros ($9.90) per dose.
Darmanin, a law-and-order hardliner, has given newly-installed Paris police chief Nunez a single year to wipe out crack in the capital.
The interior ministry said that inhabitants of the camp wanted by police would be arrested, while foreigners without papers would be detained awaiting deportation.
“Other occupants will be directed towards accommodation structures with medical and social assistance, or to medical facilities,” the ministry added.
– ‘Just another transfer’ –
But “in our view, the conditions aren’t there to prevent further open locations” forming for crack dealing and consumption, said Marie Debrus of aid group Medecins du Monde, who was on the scene for the evacuation.
“In a few months we’ll see them in the entrance halls of blocks of flats,” she added, calling the clearance “a humanitarian crisis orchestrated by the authorities”.
Aid groups say that between 300 and 400 people spent time in the camp during the day and around 150 at night, up to 40 percent of them women.
Dealers sold crack “rocks” openly among the groups of users.
As at other sites where the addicts have gathered, local residents have complained of assaults, thefts and other disruption since their arrival.
Around 500 people demonstrated last month to mark the camp being in place for a year and demand its removal.
“We’ve been calling for the clearance for a year, but also for addicts and people sick from crack to be taken care of,” said Melinda Bernardo, of the “93 Anti-Crack” group based in Paris’ northeastern suburbs.
“It doesn’t seem to us that they’re following up in the way we asked, with these people being taken into care and supported,” she added.