French police have evacuated hundreds of migrants from two camps in northern Paris on Thursday, a day after the government unveiled a series of measures to a “take back control” of immigration.
About 600 police officers escorted the migrants from tents where coaches transported them to reception centres, in an operation that began under a steady rain at about 6:00am (05:00 GMT), an AFP news agency reporter said.
The two camps near the Porte de la Chapelle, sheltered under the ring round that surrounds the capital, were believed to hold between 600 and 1,200 migrants.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said his country must “take back control of immigration” and come up with clear choices regarding asylum and integration.
Granting asylum seekers the right to remain in the country, he said in a speech on Wednesday, needs to be “actively based on our principles and goals”.
Many of the occupants, which included families with children, said they were from Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told Al Jazeera that these large-scale operations have taken place before.
“Every time, we’re told it won’t happen again, but we need proper processing procedures when people arrive in France in order for them to have their rights respected,” Hidalgo said.
“In camps like these, about 20 percent of people are refugees who are here legally but have not been offered any kind of housing,” she said.
“There are also homeless families.”
According to Al Jazeera’s Natasha Butler, reporting from Paris, the government seeks to introduce immigration quotas for workers in an attempt to “address the country’s skilled labour shortage industry”.
“There are also plans to tighten rules for asylum seekers. Access to healthcare will be limited, and benefits more rigorously controlled,” Butler said.
At the scene of the evacuation on Thursday, Paris police chief Didier Lallement said the operation, one of the largest in the capital since camps regularly began springing up in 2015, was “decided in the framework of the implementation of the [government] plan”.
“It did not happen by chance,” he told reporters.
“I will no longer tolerate these installations by the roadside here or anywhere else on public spaces in Paris.”
The government of President Emmanuel Macron has promised to crack down on immigration, a move widely seen as an attempt to keep right-wing parties from siphoning off voters ahead of municipal elections next year.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned on Wednesday that the several camps housing up to 3,000 migrants in northeastern Paris would be evacuated “before the end of the year”.
Castaner also said that 16,000 places would be made available in three new migrant centres, an effort to keep migrants from setting up new settlements.
Awa, a 32-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast, said on Thursday that she had been sleeping in a tent at the Porte de la Chapelle since she arrived in France a year ago.
“It’s raining, it’s cold. I don’t know where I will go, but I’m glad to go because I will have a roof over my head tonight,” she said, as she waited in line for a coach, carrying just a backpack.