PARIS • French police have started evacuating thousands of migrants from an illegal camp in north-eastern Paris, where numbers soared after the closure of the large "Jungle" camp in Calais last week.
Police moved in at daybreak yesterday, Reuters reporters at the scene said. They escorted migrants to dozens of buses from the sprawl of tents and mattresses where the numbers living there had surged in recent days to as many as 3,000.
A spokesman for the Paris prefecture said the migrants - many from war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan - will be transferred to holding centres in and around the French capital, pending the processing of asylum requests.
"The evacuation operation is running smoothly so far," she said, adding that all the migrants would be moved out yesterday. Some 600 police officers were deployed there.
The estimated total of around 3,000 at the Paris camp is about twice as many as just a week ago, when the bigger camp in the port city of Calais was evacuated and demolished.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had urged the government earlier this week to clear the camp as a matter of urgency.
One Reuters journalist at the location, around the Canal Saint-Martin and an urban railway bridge at Paris' Stalingrad metro station, said three buses had left by early morning amid cheering, applause and, in some cases, cries of solidarity with the migrants.
"I don't know where we are going," said migrant Khalid, 28. "The important thing for me is to have my papers. I have been here in a tent for a month, it is good to leave."
About 80 buses were present. Housing Minister Emmanuelle Cosse told France 2 television that the authorities have the means to evacuate up to 4,000 if necessary.
Mr Bruno Morel, director of the charity Emmaus Solidarite, which has been helping migrants, said: "Things are going smoothly so far. It is, above all, a question right now of reassuring people that there are other options."
The illegal Paris and Calais camps, home to close to 10,000 migrants in all who are being put in smaller but less ramshackle lodgings, have come to symbolise Europe's fraught endeavours to deal with a record influx of migrants from war zones in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
In the case of Calais, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said around 85 per cent of migrants were expected to qualify for refugee status and asylum.
France is currently negotiating with London to ensure that Britain takes in child migrants from the now-closed Calais camp, which for years was a magnet for migrants desperate to make it across the narrow Channel sea crossing to Britain.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE