France to expel 150 Afghan migrants from park

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Despite few complaints from Parisians, the park will now be shut down every night so the migrants cannot treat the park as a refugee camp.

Paris – French authorities decided Wednesday to prevent around 150 mainly Afghan migrants from sleeping in a Paris park which has been a stop-off on their road to Britain for almost six years, officials said.

Every night scores of mainly young travellers fleeing the Middle East and Asia to seek a new life in Europe scale the fences around the Villemin Garden in eastern Paris to bed down for the night on its lawns and play areas.

Officials have largely turned a blind eye to the squatters since 2003, when the closure of a transit camp in Sangatte near the Channel port of Calais created a bottleneck in the Afghans' illegal voyage towards Britain.

From Wednesday night, however, the authorities will attempt to prevent the nightly gathering, according to a statement from Paris city hall, by enforcing the nightly closure of the park to the public.

This has become necessary, the city argued, because of "the increasing problems experienced by city workers in ensuring there are acceptable conditions for the public when it reopens in the morning.

"The thorough cleaning of the facilities is becoming a much more difficult and delicate task, given the growing number of overnight occupants and increasingly aggressive behaviour between the migrants and towards staff."

Despite the concerns of the authorities, who maintain that their workers have been attacked by migrants, most park users who spoke to AFP on Wednesday thought that the Afghan encampment was not a serious problem.

"They keep to themselves, they don't beg, they ignore us. The only problem is when they fight among themselves, that's when we're a little worried for the kids," said a young mother whose family uses the play area.

"They don't bother me, except that they monopolise the toilets," said local resident Jean-Paul Gallan.

Jawed, a 17-year-old Afghan, said he had been kicked out of the park the night before but had returned at daybreak when it reopened to sleep on a bench.

"They don't let us leave our bags here during the day or sleep here or night, but we're allowed in during the day," he said, explaining that he and his friend 23-year-old Subhaw are looking for a way to get to Britain.

"Over there they help you with everything: education, social security. They find you a home. It's better than France," he declared, expressing a common belief among the thousands of illegal immigrants who cross France each year.

The mayor of Paris' tenth district, Remi Feraud, told AFP that the park "can not become a refugee camp at night" but insisted that the city wanted to help, adding that 80 spaces were available in emergency accommodation.

"Most of the immigrants refuse to take advantage of them," he complained.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war or seeking better economic opportunities cross France every year on their way towards Calais, where they attempt to sneak aboard ferries or Channel Tunnel trains to get to Britain illegally.

Until 2003 many were housed in a Red Cross refugee centre in Sangatte, but London complained that it was acting as a magnet for migrants and it was closed down, driving many into makeshift shelters in the nearby dunes or in Paris.

AFP / Expatica

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