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Paris accused of sending homeless to Brussels to 'clean up' ahead of Olympics

15:37 01/06/2024

Social workers in Brussels suspect that the city of Paris is transferring homeless people and migrants to the Belgian capital in order to "clean up" the city’s image ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games this summer.

French associations have been denouncing "forced expulsions and deportations" and have made references to "social cleansing" in recent weeks, RTBF reports.

At the same time, organisations helping the homeless in Brussels have noted an increase in the number of migrants and homeless people hailing from Paris.

One of those aid workers is Elise Tordeur from the non-profit organisation Bulle, a mobile laundry service for the disadvantaged.

“For some time now, we've been seeing an increase in the number of homeless people from Paris or France,” Tordeur told RTBF.

“The profiles vary. It happens mainly around the Gare du Midi, which is a real hub of activity. One day, you might see five or 10 new people from Paris and then not see them again for three or four weeks.”

Her colleague Marine Anthoons added: “They’re French, undocumented migrants or unaccompanied minors. They arrive in waves. They've been arriving for some time now, since December or January.”

Another aid worker, named Jean-Luc, who distributes hot meals to people in precarious situations, told RTBF that he had also noted an increase in the number of migrants arriving from Paris. He encountered a group of 15 migrants from Paris recently.

“They even had an A4 page telling them they could go to such and such a bakery, such and such a place – several addresses where they would be well received,” he said.

“They put them on buses at €10 a head to relieve the congestion in Paris before the Olympics. I've met several small groups, but they disappear very quickly from the streets of Brussels. Some go to Mons, others to Liège or Namur. Some even go back to Paris because, in their minds, it's home.”

RTBF conducted its own investigation into the matter, interviewing homeless people and volunteers and workers for the organisations that serve them.

One source who wished to remain anonymous said they spoke to a group of four very young migrants from Paris.

“They told me that they had been kicked out of Paris – the police told them to leave the city, chased them away from where they were, where they were sleeping,” the source said.

“It was simply in the street. With the Olympics coming up, they're really cleaning things up. They had no papers and yet they came by train. They had a list with addresses of where to go in Brussels. They were looking for specific places here, associations.”

As for where the list came from, the source did not know but said the migrants were destined for Liège or Namur. “They're going to the French-speaking side,” the source added.

The source also relayed a conversation she had with another homeless person who said he was explicitly told to leave Paris because of the Olympic Games.

“The French police explained to him that, during the journey to get here, they would turn a blind eye,” the source said.

“The police advised him to take a train from Paris to Lille Europe, then on to Brussels – to come to Belgium that way. The French police told them to come to Brussels because there were a lot of associations here and they were well looked after.”

France's interior ministry and other relevant officials have so far refused journalists’ requests for a response.

The office of the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said in a statement: "It’s important to stress that there has been a sharp increase in the number of people without accommodation solutions in Paris generally.

“In the face of this social emergency, the State, whose responsibility it is, is not up to the task. The City of Paris, which is pursuing a proactive policy on the issue of emergency accommodation, has for its part gone well beyond its remit and, among other initiatives, has taken charge of 450 young people sheltered in five Parisian facilities since December 2023.

"On the question of the Olympic Games, the City of Paris is listening to the concerns of its various stakeholders and is working actively to make the Games an inclusive event and to build a legacy of solidarity with the Games."

When asked directly whether it was true that French police were sending migrants to Brussels, the official statement was simply: “As this is a matter for the state services, we do not have the information to answer your question precisely.”

Written by Helen Lyons