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Sport

French charities decry ‘social cleansing’ ahead of Paris Olympics

todayJune 3, 2024 5

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Illustration of Paris 2024 logos on the town hall during preparation for the Olympic Games on June 1, 2024 in Paris, France.(Photo by Daniel Derajinski/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

By Estelle EMONET, Adam PLOWRIGHT

A collective of French charities that has been a persistent critic of the Paris Olympics accused organisers on Monday of carrying out a “year of social cleansing” of the capital ahead of the start of the Games.

A new report by “The Other Side of the Medal” group, which brings together 80 different charities, said Paris was following a playbook used by other Olympic host cities by cracking down on migrants, squatters, the homeless and sex workers.

“We hoped that this edition would be different from previous ones and we made suggestions over a long period in this regard,” the report said. “Today… we can state that Paris 2024 will be no different from previous editions and will truly accelerate the exclusion of the most vulnerable.”

The report looked in particular at actions by the French police to clear squats, as well as migrant camps and the homeless from Paris streets ahead of the Olympics which run from July 26-August 11.

It said there had been 26 operations to clear migrant camps so far in 2024, “almost the same as for the whole of the year 2022 (when there were 30).”

Since April last year, a total of 10 squats used by migrants, including a former factory close to the Olympic village, had been cleared, affecting 1,967 people.

Many migrants — two thirds of the 6,000 rounded up by public authorities in 2023 — were sent to regional shelters outside of the Paris region under a policy defended by French authorities as a means of relieving housing pressure in the capital.

The report took aim at statements by French ministers and police chiefs that the crackdown was not connected with the Olympics.

“This argument was weak before and today it is totally unconvincing,” the report concluded.

Areas used by sex workers in northern Paris and in the eastern Vincennes wood had seen “increased police pressure” leading to identity checks, detentions and explusion orders for dozens of people.

“This summer, Paris and its region will be able to present themselves in a way that authorities see as favourable: a sterile ‘City of Light’, with its misery almost invisible, without important informal areas of life, ‘clean’ neighbourhoods and woods, without beggars, drug use or sex work,” the report concluded.

“The Other Side of the Medal” includes major charities such as Medecins du Monde, the Salvation Army or Action against Hunger, as well as many local groups working on the ground with migrants and other vulnerable communities.

The collective has organised a series of protests to raise awareness about its work, including projecting “We are not ready” on to the Arc de Triomphe and its own name on to the headquarters of the organising committee.

Its statements and work have been widely published by the French and international media and have drawn support from other rights campaigners, including the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

“Evictions to beautify Paris ahead of the Olympics is similar to what China, India or many others have done before other mega-events. How is France justifying this?” Rajagopal asked on X (formerly Twitter) in April.

When asked for comment on the latest report, the Paris 2024 organising committee stressed it was not responsible for social policies or policing.

The social affairs ministry said it “took the concerns seriously” and had “regularly consulted” charities.

The cabinet director of the Paris regional prefect, who is responsible for policing and security, defended the policies of the government and suggested the “Other Side of the Medal” was unrealistic.

“They want the Olympics to be a magic word that will enable us to resolve the ills of French society,” Christophe Noel du Payrat told AFP. “But we know that emergency shelters and social housing is under strain in the Paris region.”

The head of the Seine-Saint-Denis region, a poverty-wracked northeastern Paris suburb where much of the Olympics will take place, said last week that the Games should draw attention to the capital’s housing problems.

“I would like it to be a moment of awareness for that fact that the emergency shelters in the Paris region are completely full and we need more places,” Stephane Troussel told reporters on Thursday.

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AFP

(NAMPA / AFP)

Written by: Staff Writer

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