Paris to set up camp for migrants

PARIS • The mayor of Paris has unveiled plans for a refugee camp in the French capital as the migrant crisis took an ever-more deadly turn with 2,500 drowned in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year.

With Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II peaking for a second consecutive year, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said some 204,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean to the continent since January.

Figures released on Tuesday showed that more than a third of the deaths had occurred over the past week, when at least 880 people died in shipwrecks off the Libyan coast, UNHCR said, citing information from survivors.

"I emphasise that that figure is a conservative estimate," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters, with a number of small children reportedly among the dead.

In a sign that France may be taking a more active stance on the migrant crisis, Paris authorities were "assessing different sites" for their suitability to host a camp "as soon as possible", Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Tuesday.

She said the current situation was no longer "tenable", pointing to the example of a makeshift camp that had sprung up in the north of Paris in the past few days where 800 people are living.

The migrant crisis has shown no sign of calming despite a European Union deal with Turkey aimed at blocking the influx. But the agreement is at risk of unravelling over a dispute between Brussels and Ankara, with Turkey threatening to walk unless the EU makes good on a visa waiver pledge for Turkish nationals.

While arrivals to Greece have fallen sharply since the deal was signed on March 20, this year's number is still more than double the nearly 92,000 who landed on Europe's shores during the first five months of last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

And although Germany was the main destination for people fleeing war and poverty, with 1.1 million arrivals last year, thousands have also flocked to France in recent months.

The French authorities have long resisted putting in place an infrastructure for the migrants, up until Tuesday's surprise announcement. Mayor Hidalgo said she had alerted the relevant state authorities to the situation in Paris several times but was still waiting for a response.

She said the state had not provided sufficient resources to give refugees "a fitting welcome". "We are going to take things in hand," she added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Paris to set up camp for migrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe