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Paris plans refugee camp as migrant deaths spike

The Paris mayor unveiled plans for a refugee camp in the French capital as the migrant crisis took on an ever-more deadly turn

Published: Updated:

The Paris mayor unveiled plans Tuesday for a refugee camp in the French capital as the migrant crisis took on an ever-more deadly turn with 2,500 drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year.

With Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II peaking for a second consecutive year, the UN refugee agency said some 204,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean to the continent since January.

But figures released on Tuesday showed that more than a third of the deaths had occurred over the past week, when at least 880 people died in a series of shipwrecks of the Libyan coast, the UN refugee agency said, citing information from survivors.

“I emphasise that that figure is a conservative estimate,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters, with a number of small children reportedly among the dead.

Spindler said that 2016 “is proving to be particularly deadly,” indicating the death toll in the first five months of 2015 stood at 1,855, while the number during the same period in 2014 was 57.

In an sign that France may be taking a more active stance this year on the migrant crisis, Paris authorities were “assessing different sites” for their suitability to host a camp “as soon as possible”, Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters.

She said the current situation was no longer “tenable”, pointing to the example of a makeshift camp that had sprung up in the north of Paris in the past few days where 800 people are living.

A fitting welcome’

The migrant crisis has shown no sign of calming despite an EU deal with Turkey that is aimed at blocking the influx.

But the agreement is at risk of unravelling over a dispute between Brussels and Ankara, with Turkey threatening to walk unless the EU makes good on a visa waiver pledge for Turkish nationals.

On Tuesday, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “think twice” before turning his back on the agreement.

While arrivals to Greece have fallen sharply since the deal was signed on March 20, this year’s number is still more than double the nearly 92,000 who landed on Europe’s shores during the first five months of 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.

And although Germany was the main destination for people fleeing war and poverty, with 1.1 million arrivals in 2015, thousands have also flocked to France in recent months.

French authorities have long resisted putting in place an infrastructure for the migrants, up until Tuesday’s surprise announcement.
Visibly frustrated, Mayor Hidalgo said she had alerted the relevant state authorities to the situation in Paris several times but was still waiting for a response.

She said the state had not provided sufficient resources to give refugees “a fitting welcome”.

“We are going to take things in hand,” she added.

Many migrants see France as a springboard to Britain where they believe they will have a better chance at finding work and where some have relatives.

Fearing a new influx, Britain on Tuesday announced increased patrols in the Channel.