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Thursday, September 21, 2023

French minister says images of police breaking up refugee camp ‘shocking’

France’s interior minister has described images of police breaking up a refugee camp in central Paris, chasing people down streets and attacking journalists and others with truncheons and teargas as “shocking”.

Gérald Darmanin said he had demanded a report on the police operation by lunchtime on Tuesday.

“Certain images of the breaking up of an illegal migrant camp at Place de la République are shocking,” Darmanin tweeted late on Monday night. “I have just demanded a detailed report on the reality of the facts from the prefect of police by midday tomorrow. I will take decisions as soon as I receive it.”

Police and gendarmes were sent in late on Monday to clear a camp from the square in central Paris. About 450 refugees set up tents at the request of the charity Utopia 56 to protest against the forcible clearing of a camp a few days previously that left scores of migrants wandering the streets.

Utopia 56 had issued a statement demanding the authorities provide shelter for the estimated 3,000 homeless migrants sleeping rough in and around the French capital.

As night fell, police and gendarmes arrived to clear the square. Officers were filmed pulling migrants out of tents and throwing them to the ground.

Lawyers, MPs and city councillors in Place de la République tried to calm tensions and stop the police action, without success.

Ian Brossat, a deputy Paris mayor in charge of housing, who was present, condemned the police operation and said the only solution was for the state to find housing for the homeless.

“This problem is not one for the police to sort out. To think that we resolve social problems with truncheons is totally crazy,” Brossat said. “As long as there is no available housing, there will be people living outside, and as long as there are people living outside, there will be camps. To think we can solve that with the police harassment we have seen this evening is pathetic.”

Police used teargas and crowd dispersal grenades to break up groups of people, and journalists said they were deliberately targeted.

Rémy Buisine, a reporter with the online news website Brut, said he was attacked three times by the same police officer despite showing his press card.

Afterwards, the police prefecture said the organisation of ad-hoc migrant camps in the city was “not acceptable”.

“The police prefecture therefore set about the immediate dispersion of this illegal occupation of a public space,” it said in a statement.

The police operation came at a delicate time for the French government, which is facing widespread criticism for a new law that would make it illegal to disseminate images of police officers in certain circumstances. The law, seen as a direct threat to press freedom, also authorises police use of drones and facial recognition technology. It has passed its first reading in the Assemblée Nationale.

Éric Coquerel, an MP for the leftwing La France Insoumise party, who was present at Place de la République on Monday, told FranceInfo: “If Mr Darmanin wants the images of what we saw yesterday spread then, well, all he has to do is get the law passed. If not, he should withdraw it.”

He added: “What we saw was repression that is sadly not that unusual but was completely disproportionate. Was there a risk to the police officers? No. Was there a risk of damage to property? No. Instead there was a repression that fell, I remind you, on people who are only demanding that their human rights are respected, on peaceful activists, on journalists and elected representatives without discrimination.”

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