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03.12.2019 Europe

French police clear massive Tibetan migrant camp outside Paris

LISTEN DEC 3, 2019

Police in France have dismantled a huge makeshift camp on the edge of a forest outside Paris that was home to some 600 asylum seekers from Tibet living in exile.

Local authorities in Yvelines said the camp was dismantled on Tuesday morning to "protect" the migrants after growing health and safety concerns.

The prefect of this town 40 km west of Paris tweeted that the evacuation was carried out with the support of aid groups and volunteers.

Except for families with children, men and women were loaded onto separate buses early Tuesday and the camp was cleared, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Once transferred to the shelters that include gyms and schools, the plan is to rehouse the migrants in structures located outside the Ile de France region.

Fleeing Chinese crackdown
"Since 2017, nearly 800 of the migrants have already been placed in shelters," the government's regional office said in a statement.

The camp in Saint-Germain-en-Laye forest sprang up last August, the latest to emerge after several others were evacuated near Acheres, some 30 kilometres northwest of the capital.

The area began attracting Tibetans after 2010, when a local aid association started offering meals, showers and help with their asylum requests.

Tibetans have been fleeing their homeland for years because of a crackdown by the Chinese government, which crushed a revolt against Beijing's rule in 1959.

Increasing numbers
"But despite several housing facilities in the Yvelines region, it is impossible to bring in such a large number of people in suitable conditions," the regional office said.

"It's unacceptable to let these people live in these conditions," Marc Honore, the mayor of Acheres, said during the evacuation Tuesday.

But he acknowledged that "every year, their number increases, and it's not going to stop anytime soon."

According to Francoise Robin, a Tibet specialist at France's National Institute of Eastern Languages and Civilisation, around 8,000 Tibetans now live in France.