French authorities accused of ‘social cleansing’ before Olympics
French authorities accused of ‘social cleansing’ before Olympics

A group of NGOs has accused the government of forcibly removing the homeless from Paris ahead of the 2024 Summer Games

The number of forcible eviction operations launched against squatters and people sleeping outside in the French capital has rapidly grown over the past year, more than 80 NGOs said in a report, blaming the practice on the upcoming Olympic Games which Paris is about to host.

Orders issued by the local and regional authorities allowing the forced dislodgement of squatters have more than tripled over the past three years in the Paris region, one such group monitoring evictions said, according to France 24. The group’s data show that there were only 15 such removals between May 2021 and April 2022, while between May 2023 and April 2024, there were almost 50.

An umbrella group called Le Revers de la Médaille (The Other Side of the Medal) claimed that authorities in Ile-de-France – the region that includes Paris and its suburbs – have a particularly “high propensity” to resort to such measures. It also accused the French government of what it called “social cleansing.”

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“This acceleration in the pace of evictions and the offering of temporary housing coincides with the arrival of the Olympics,” Theo Ferignac, an activist with Law Access Collective, told France24. “These figures clearly show the desire to have as few homeless camps as possible in Paris this summer.”

According to France24, the authorities launched at least three major forced eviction operations in the Paris suburbs between April 2023 and April 2024 – each involving the displacement of hundreds of people, including the homeless, squatters and migrants.

The people who are displaced are encouraged to take buses provided by the authorities to move to other parts of France, the broadcaster reported. There, they are often housed in temporary reception centers with a maximum capacity of 50 people for a period of some three weeks. After that, they are just told to leave these shelters as well, France24 reported.

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According to The Other Side of the Medal, some 3,958 out of the 6,000 homeless and squatters living in Ile-de-France in 2023 were moved to temporary reception centers in other regions. The practice caught the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal. “How does France justify this?” he wrote on X (formerly, Twitter) in April.

The French authorities have consistently denied that the evictions had anything to do with the Olympics. “This emergency accommodation policy aims to spread the burden across the country … Operations of this type are carried out regularly, it’s not dictated by the Olympic and Paralympic agenda,” French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said in March.

The Paris mayor’s office pointed to the overburdened emergency accommodation system in the French capital. The number of people without accommodation in Paris has grown by a “worrying” 16% since 2023, it told France24.

Other regions did not appreciate the government’s policy either. “It’s more a case of displacing the problem rather than solving it,” said Strasbourg’s deputy mayor Floriane Varieras. “The problem of homelessness is not going to be solved just by ‘regional temporary shelters’.”

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