August 19, 2009 / 11:56 AM / 9 years ago

Paris authorities clear makeshift Afghan refugee camp

PARIS (Reuters) - A makeshift camp set up by Afghan refugees in a park in northern Paris has been cleared by police, city authorities said Wednesday, urging the government to set up proper shelters.

The Jardin Villemin is one of several public spaces in Paris used by refugees en route to Britain. Like most of the camps, it sprang up after France closed a shelter at Sangatte near the Channel port of Calais which it said had become a magnet for illegal migrants.

The small park, between the Gare de l’Est train terminal and the Canal Saint Martin, a picturesque tourist spot, has a bandstand and a children’s playground.

Until it was cleared, dozens of young Afghans could be seen there playing cards or football, using a drinking fountain to wash, or drying their clothes on shrubs.

Police accompanied by dogs expelled about 50 people from the park overnight. Paris city hall said it had offered alternative accommodation and would ensure minors were protected.

Human rights activists have urged the government to provide proper shelters for refugees who live in dirty and unsafe camps, and have said clearing existing sites will not solve the problem.

“The city repeats its request ... that the state create, as is its responsibility, appropriate measures to give shelter in dignified conditions to these people, some of whom are seeking asylum,” Paris city hall said in a statement.

The city hall decided to clear the park after workers found it more and more difficult to clean it up for day-time visitors, and reported increasingly aggressive behavior in the camp and toward staff.

Hundreds of refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries head for northern France in the hope of hitching a ride to Britain, where they have relatives or where they believe it will be easier to find work.

France closed the Red Cross center at Sangatte several years ago under pressure from Britain.

Reporting by Sophie Hardach, Thierry Leveque and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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