PARIS (Reuters) – French police arrested 138 Tunisian migrants on Wednesday, clearing out an illegal squat in Paris as unease deepened in France over an influx sparked by the upheaval in North Africa.
About 250 riot police were deployed to evict the squatters, most of them Tunisians who entered Europe a couple of months ago via Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island that is one of the closest points for people fleeing North Africa.
“In all, 138 people were arrested, and their situation will be assessed on a case by case basis,” a police officer told Reuters television at the scene of Wednesday’s eviction in the northeast of the French capital.
According to charity groups, 400-500 Tunisians have arrived in France since a popular uprising in Tunisia led to the ouster of the former French colony’s long-time ruler in January, sending a wave of pro-democracy upheaval across the Arab world.
Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity is lower than any French leader in the last 30 years according to an opinion poll published this week, says he wants Europe’s border control rules toughened up in the wake of developments on the southern side of the Mediterannean.
He faces mounting pressure from the anti-immigrant National Front as polls show significant gains in popularity for the far-right party’s new leader, Marine Le Pen.
She has said that immigrants arriving from North Africa should be put back in their boats and sent home.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who is from the opposition Socialist Party, has called on the government to show greater compassion and his press office published a statement saying the building occuipied by the migrants was a fire hazard.
Alternative lodgings were on offer, the statement said.