First Paris refugee camp to open in mid-October

Paris (AFP) - Paris will open its first refugee camp in mid-October, Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Tuesday, unveiling plans to take hundreds of people off the streets as France struggles to accommodate migrants.

The camp, which will have an initial capacity of 400 and be solely for men travelling alone, will be set up in a disused railway yard in the north of the French capital, Hidalgo said.

Asylum-seekers who would otherwise face sleeping rough, will be given a bed for "five to 10 days". They will also have access to medical care while awaiting a place in a refugee hostel, the Socialist mayor told reporters.

France has received only a tiny proportion of the million-plus migrants who have crossed into Europe in the last 18 months, with many refugees seeing it mainly as a transit country to other destinations.

Migrants cite an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum seekers and a depressed economy among several deterrents to claiming refugee status in France.

The new 6.5 million euro ($7.2 million) shelter in Paris will open in an area where hundreds of migrants have been sleeping rough, on the pavement or under railway bridges. By the end of 2016 it will have 600 beds.

The camp, which will be managed by the Emmaus charity, will be located close to Gare du Nord rail station, which is the main terminal for Eurostar trains to London.

It will be modelled on France's first camp operating to international standards, which opened in Grande-Synthe in northern France earlier this year.

A separate camp for migrant women and children as well as whole families is being built in Ivry-sur-Seine in the southeast of Paris. That shelter, which will open by the end of the year, will have 350 places.

- 'Change of tack' -

Around 80,000 people applied for asylum in France last year, up 20,000 in a year but only a fraction of the one million asylum requests received by Germany and the 160,000 taken in by Sweden.

In some areas, migrants face a hostile reception.

An asylum seekers hostel in the Essonne area south of Paris was torched on Monday night, investigators said. The centre for Sudanese and Afghan men had been due to open in October.

Hidalgo said it was France's duty to accommodate migrants in "humane" conditions.

Many of those who land in Paris are bound for the port of Calais on the Channel coast, where they hope to stow away on a truck crossing to Britain.

The squalid camp of tents and makeshift shelters in Calais, known as the The Jungle, is home to some 7,000 migrants but charities say the number might be as high as 10,000 after an influx this summer.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve last week vowed to close the camp "as quickly as possible" but said it would be done in stages.

Hidalgo has been critical of the government's approach to the refugee issue, accusing the state of not giving people fleeing war and misery "a fitting welcome".

As she was speaking Tuesday, police were clearing a makeshift camp set up in the middle of a busy avenue in northeast Paris, where hundreds of migrants had been sleeping rough.

"I'm alone here, I have no family, I don't know where they're taking us," Asam, a 21-year-old Sudanese refugee who stood watching the police with a mattress under his arm, told AFP.

Since June 2015, the authorities have dismantled more than 20 such camps around the city, moving thousands of people to refugee hostels, hotels or other temporary accommodation.

But many end up back on the street.

Hidalgo said it was time for a "change of tack".

"That means setting up a reception centre where migrants can rest and get a medical check-up and psychological help as well as advice on their status and what they can expect," she said.

"If we need to create other sites, we'll do it," she added.