French government clears migrant camps in Paris and signals tougher stand on immigration

Migrants were evacuated by the police in Paris on Thursday as authorities cleared two migrant camps on the northern outskirts of the city. More than a thousand migrants and homeless people had settled in the area.
Migrants were evacuated by the police in Paris on Thursday as authorities cleared two migrant camps on the northern outskirts of the city. More than a thousand migrants and homeless people had settled in the area.MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

PARIS — French authorities cleared out two migrant camps on the northern outskirts of Paris on Thursday morning, uprooting approximately 1,600 migrants as President Emmanuel Macron adopted a tougher stand on immigration.

The early-morning spectacle came on the heels of a government announcement Wednesday concerning forthcoming changes to French immigration policy. Among the changes are quotas for legal economic migrants and a controversial provision to deny incoming asylum seekers access to medical care for three months.

Eleven parliamentary deputies from Macron’s own nominally centrist party, Republic on the Move, have joined members of the political left in attacking what they see as a pivot to the right ahead of municipal elections in March 2020.


‘‘If we must help to redefine, in a changing time, what immigration should be, we, deputies of the nation, refuse to do so by suggesting that it would only be a burden for our country,’’ the 11 deputies wrote Thursday in an open letter, the text of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse.

Macron’s aides have essentially admitted the political calculus behind new rules. As one of them told the French newspaper Les Echoes last month: ‘‘The idea is to take the lead, anticipate a global upheaval in migration and avoid a radicalization of public opinion.’’

The overtures to the political right have continued since then. Last week, the French president advertised his new immigration policies in a lengthy interview with a magazine popular on the far right, Valeurs Actuelles. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said the government is determined to ‘‘take back control of our migration policy.’’

He explained: ‘‘Taking back control means that when we say yes, it really means yes, and that when we say no, it really means no.’’

The provision limiting access to health care has particularly incensed critics. It was emphasized in the open letter from the deputies in Macron’s party, and it drew the ire of medical activists.


‘‘We are the sixth global economic power. We call ourselves the country of human rights. Never has a government dared to take away the rights of asylum seekers to health care,’’ said Carine Rolland, a member of the administrative council of Médecins du Monde, a medical association devoted to fighting health inequalities throughout the developing world, in an interview with France Info on Thursday.

Regarding Thursday’s camp destructions, the government was pressed on what would happen to the uprooted migrants. ‘‘Each case will be studied individually,’’ Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Thursday in an interview on French radio. ‘‘We will study the situation of each person.’’

For many in the French capital, the small, makeshift camps outside the city, tucked away to the side of major thoroughfares that lead to Charles de Gaulle Airport, are the most visible manifestation of France’s recent struggles with migration.

But amid the Thursday morning operation, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist who has repeatedly butted heads with Macron’s government, questioned whether the decision to clear out the camps would amount to more than optics in the absence of alternative shelters.

Thursday’s destruction was the 59th such operation since 2015, Hidalgo said in a statement posted on Twitter. The makeshift camps have continued to be rebuilt regardless, she said.

‘‘The regular reconstruction of the camps shows that the current system is not adapted to needs: It does not accommodate people as they arrive and excludes the so-called ‘Dublin’ people,’’ she wrote.


A European Union law known as the Dublin regulation determines which EU member state is responsible for processing an asylum seeker’s demand, typically the country in which the migrant first arrived.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, also criticized Macron’s immigration policy, saying it was paying lip service to an issue that only her staunchly anti-immigrant faction has taken seriously.

‘‘They’re talking about immigration because they think that it’s enough to talk to the French about immigration so that they believe solutions will be provided,’’ she said in an interview with France Info earlier this week. She added that such solutions ‘‘are not being provided today, and they will not be provided tomorrow morning.’’