France’s hardline interior minister, who is backing a controversial new law restricting filming of police on duty, said he was shocked by images of officers violently dismantling a migrant camp in the heart of Paris.
Truckloads of riot police were quickly dispatched to Place de la République after migrants and charity groups set up a makeshift camp of hundreds of blue tents.
The tent city under the statue of Marianne, the female embodiment of the French Republic, was organised by migrant aid groups to protest against the clearing of a camp last week that left hundreds homeless.
Gendarmes upended tents, sometimes tipping out the migrants lying inside them, and confiscated them to jeers and protests from hundreds of refugees and aid workers.
A tense stand-off lasted several hours, with police firing tear gas and dispersal grenades. Journalists said they were targeted despite showing their press cards to officers.
One reporter, Rémy Buisine of the Brut news site, said he was assaulted three times by the same officer.
“Grabbed by the throat the first time, violently pushed the second,” he tweeted.
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, who has repeatedly denied or downplayed accusations of police violence, said in a rare admission that officers might have overstepped the mark and that he was shocked.
“Certain images of the dispersal of the illegal migrant camp on Place de la République are shocking,” he tweeted late on Monday, adding that he wanted a report from the Paris police chief on his desk by lunchtime on Tuesday.
The report was duly delivered and recommended that the police internal affairs unit investigate “several unacceptable facts”, the minister said, adding that he had ordered internal affairs to report back to him with its conclusions within two days.
“These scenes were shameful,” Ian Brossat, a deputy Paris mayor in charge of housing, told The Independent.
“We’re talking about people most of whom have applied for asylum. The police were way out of line. The role of the authorities is to propose housing solutions, not to chase away [migrants]. All this gives a deplorable image of our country,” said Mr Brossat, who was present at the evictions on Monday.
Makeshift migrant camps, some of whose thousands of residents are on their way to the Channel coast to try to get to the UK, have been a regular feature in Paris in recent years.
When they get too big or attract too much media attention, the authorities, backed by riot police, send in buses to take their residents to temporary accommodation in hostels, requisitioned gyms or hotels.
But this is merely a stop-gap solution, and many migrants soon end up back on the street.
This was the case after a squalid camp of up to 3,000 people, on the banks of the canal next to the national stadium in Saint-Denis, was dismantled last week.
Monday’s protest at République was to highlight the fact that hundreds of the camp’s former residents were left homeless.
The demonstration came after the French government approved an amended “global security” law that would restrict the filming or photographing of police officers carrying out their duties.
Critics say this could prevent journalists from doing their work and would also prevent ordinary citizens from documenting police abuses.
There have been two street protests in Paris against the law in the past week, both of which ended in violent clashes with security forces.