French police evicted thousands of migrants living on sidewalks in an area of northern Paris as dawn broke on Friday – many of them people who fled war or strife in countries as far away as Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
Dozens of police and white police vans moved in at around 5:00 am (0300 GMT) to clear the area where Paris City Hall official Dominique Versini said numbers have swollen to between 2,000 and 2,500 people.
The migrants were being escorted onto buses to be taken to temporary lodgings such as gymnasium buildings in Paris and areas ringing the capital. Live TV footage showed what appeared to be a peaceful evacuation.
"These illegal camps present a security and public health risk for both the occupants and local residents," the Paris police prefect's office said in a statement as 350 police and other officials conducted the clear-out.
The authorities mobilised 60 buses to disperse them to a couple of other locations in the Paris region, mainly school gymnasiums that have become available during the holiday season.
Charity groups took part in the operation
"Getting out of hand"
About 100 migrants a day were arriving in the area called the Porte de la Chapelle in the north of Paris, Versini told CNews TV station, noting many came from eastern Africa as well as the Middle East.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said earlier this week the situation was getting out of hand with more than 400 arrivals a week in the area.
"It's always the same problem," he said on Thursday. "First off you say 'I'm going to open a centre for 500 people' and next thing you know you have 3,000 or 4,000 people, and you're left having to sort the problem out."
He has been asked by President Emmanuel Macron to produce a plan to accelerate processing of asylum requests with a view to deciding within six months who will be granted refugee status and who gets sent back.
The camp in Paris has swollen despite the creation of two new centres by Paris City Hall to register and temporarily house migrants arriving in the city.
Dozens of eviction operations
Local authorities have also reported a rise in recent weeks in the number of migrants roaming the streets of the northern port city of Calais, where a sprawling illegal camp was razed to the ground last November and its inhabitants dispatched to other parts of France.
Calais, from which migrants hope to reach Britain, has come to symbolise Europe's difficulty in dealing with a record influx of men, women and children who have fled their native countries.
Friday's eviction operation was the 34th to take place in Paris in the last two years. The previous operation was on May 9, when more than 1,600 migrants were moved out from the same area.
On Thursday, EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 people since the start of the year and says it is overwhelmed.