French police on Tuesday faced accusations of a “scandalous” use of excessive force after they fired tear gas to disperse a camp pitched by homeless migrants in Paris.
The government is already facing a storm of criticism over a new security law that opponents say will erode the accountability of the police.
Officers used tear gas to dismantle the Paris camp, which was set up to protest against earlier forced evacuations of hundreds of migrants from other camps.
Time and time again police dismantle camps and confiscate #migrants‘ tents, knowing they have no alternative housing. Usually it’s in Calais or the outskirts of Paris. This time: at Place de la République. With more eyes watching – and condemning the policy – will it change? https://t.co/yggzCf3izs
— Yena Lee (@yenatweet) November 23, 2020
Volunteers had helped set up about 500 blue tents at Republic Square that were quickly filled by migrants, the majority from Afghanistan.
Police arrived shortly afterwards to remove the tents, sometimes with people still inside, in the face of protests from migrants and jeers from activists.
“They are too violent,” said Shahbuddin, a 34-year-old Afghan, crying after being evicted. “We just want a roof.”
Police later used tear gas and rough tactics, with videos posted on social media showing one officer tripping a man as he ran, and another officer slamming into a man who tried to intervene.
The controversy comes a week after migrants were evacuated from makeshift shelters in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, including some who were provided with alternative shelter.
“The state has made a lamentable show,” Ian Brossat, a Paris deputy mayor in charge of housing, told AFP.
CFDT trade union chief Laurent Berger told France 2 TV that the actions of the police were “scandalous and astounding”.
“People occupy a square peacefully with tents, simply because they have a housing problem, they are not harming anyone. And there is this intervention which is totally disproportionate,” he said.
Darmanin said he had asked for a report from Paris police chief Didier Lallement by midday and would take decisions based on its findings.
“Some images of the dispersal of the illegal migrant camp on Republic Square are shocking,” he wrote on Twitter.
Certaines images de la dispersion du campement illicite de migrants place de la République sont choquantes. Je viens de demander un rapport circonstancié sur la réalité des faits au Préfet de police d’ici demain midi. Je prendrai des décisions dès sa réception.
— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) November 23, 2020
‘Didn’t vote for this’
Paris is a key stop-off point on the European migrant route with thousands passing through, often heading to England.
Encampments repeatedly sprout up around the city only to be torn down by the police.
The latest camp removal came as the government is pushing a security law through parliament that would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces — the lower house is due to vote on it later on Tuesday.
Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses.
President Emmanuel Macron swept to power in 2017 as a centrist who rallied support from across the political spectrum. But critics and even some supporters accuse him of tilting to the right as he seeks re-election in 2022.
A group of public figures who voted for him in 2017 wrote an open letter this week calling for the legislation to be withdrawn.
The law would “reduce the freedoms of information, opinion, belief, education, association, demonstration and protest,” said the signatories, who included filmmaker Costa-Gavras and ex-footballer Lilian Thuram.
“Mr President, we did not vote for this.”