Hundreds of French police began dismantling a huge migrant camp in northeastern Paris Friday amid a government effort to take refugees off the streets and into shelters.
Aid groups said at least 3,000 people occupied the camp in the area along a canal between the Stalingrad and Jaures metro stations.
Scores of migrants held their belongings while waiting to for buses to take them to a center were they could get properly processed.
“My teams will be on site in the reception centers where they are going to arrive and we will be accompanied by translators,” Didier Leschi, director at the French Office of Immigration and Integration, said.
“We are going to explain two things to them. The first is that they are going to have a temporary welcome in Ile de France and afterward they will be oriented toward welcome centers in the provinces and at the same time we are going to explain to them how to apply for asylum,” he added.
Police arrived at dawn to wake up people sleeping in tents or on mattresses. Some were confused and worried about where they would go this time.
“This is the biggest operation sheltering migrants we have had to face in the last 18 months. … You have to realize that these people have been expecting this operation for several days and seeing the buses coming in, they try to make sure they are doing to go on one of them,” Christine Gauthier, chief of operations at the Regional Directorate for Shelter and Housing in Ile de France.
“So yes, there is a lot of pushing and yes there is police around just to make sure there’s no accident when people try to gather around the buses and get first in. It’s always like that,” she said.
The Stalingrad area has been cleared by authorities more than once and migrants arriving in Paris often settle in the area.
The police operation to clear Stalingrad comes a week after President Francois Hollande emptied a camp known as "the jungle" near Calais. The dire conditions in the camp became a high-profile symbol of Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.
"We cannot tolerate camps," Hollande said, calling the street encampments "not worthy" of France. "We will evacuate the camps in Paris, because it cannot be a long-lasting solution" for migrant refugees who escape war and poverty in their countries of origin.
The president said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure that British officials would "play their part" in welcoming them to Britain.
Hollande said 5,000 migrants had been evacuated from the Calais camp in the past week and transferred to 450 reception centers around France.
Anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain and France has complicated efforts to address the long-running Calais migrant situation.