Buses took away more than 1,600 people in the Porte de la Chapelle and Seine-Saint-Denis area, where illegal refugees lived in tents under and around the flyovers of the busy Paris Peripherique ring road and the ramps to the A1 highway.
“I will no longer tolerate these installations by the roadside here or anywhere else on public spaces in Paris,” Paris police prefect Didier Lallement told reporters at the scene.
The migrants, mostly men from sub-Saharan Africa and some from the Middle East, boarded the buses in an orderly manner and were taken to gyms and other public venues in and around Paris, while excavators demolished makeshift shacks and picked up plastic chairs, mattresses and rubbish.
Lallement said police would maintain a permanent presence in the area in coming weeks to prevent migrants from returning.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the closure of tent camps, quotas for migrant workers and limits on access to non-urgent healthcare for newly arrived asylum seekers as part of a drive to show that the government is heeding voters’ concerns about immigration.
Since the closure of a huge migrant camp in Calais in 2016, many refugees have moved to Paris, which has repeatedly broken up camps only to see them pop up again in different areas a few months later.
“Prefects have told me time and again the camps would not come back, but each time they have reappeared,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters.
Deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said that apart from the Porte de la Chapelle camp there were another 1,600 migrants in a camp at nearby Porte d’Aubervilliers and more camps at Porte de la Villete and in Seine-Saint Denis, all in northern Paris.
“Dispersal operations are no solution. Our country needs to provide permanent and proper housing while people’s asylum applications are considered,” he said on France Info radio.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the people evacuated on Thursday would be housed in state-sponsored centers while their asylum requests were being processed.
Castaner said some people who had already been granted asylum were refusing to remain in the social housing offered. Those whose asylum request is rejected will have to leave French territory and some will be deported, he said.
Reporting by Geert De Clercq, Simon Carraud and Sophie Louet; Editing by Gareth Jones.
Fist bumps are more hygienic than high fives or handshakes.