Charities are denouncing ‘social cleansing’ in the run-up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

A collective of French charities that has been a persistent critic of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris has accused organizers of carrying out a “year of social cleansing” in the capital ahead of the start of the Games.

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A new report presented by the group ‘The Other Side of the Medal’ – which brings together 80 different charities – says Paris has followed a playbook used by other Olympic host cities in cracking down on migrants, squatters, the homeless and sex workers .

According to the report released on Monday: “We hoped that this edition would be different from the previous ones and we have been making suggestions in this regard for a long period of time. Today… we can say that Paris 2024 will be no different from previous editions and that it will be so.” truly accelerate the exclusion of the most vulnerable.”

The report mainly looked at the actions of the French police to clear squats – as well as migrant camps and homeless people – from the streets of Paris in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which take place from July 26 to August 11.

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

Since April last year, a total of ten squats used by migrants – including a former factory near the Olympic Village – have been evacuated, affecting 1,967 people.

‘Sterile’ city

Many migrants – two-thirds of the 6,000 arrested by the government in 2023 – were sent to regional reception centers outside the Paris region under a policy championed by French authorities as a means of easing housing pressure in the capital .

The report focused on statements by French ministers and police chiefs that the crackdown was not linked to the Olympics.

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

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

“This summer, Paris and the region will be able to present themselves in a way that is considered favorable by the authorities: a sterile ‘City of Light’, whose misery is almost invisible, without important informal living spaces, ‘clean’ neighborhoods and forests. , without beggars, drug use or sex work,” the report concludes.

“The other side of the coin” includes major charities such as Medicins du Monde, the Salvation Army and many local groups working on the ground with migrants and other vulnerable communities.

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

Her statements and work have been widely published by the French and international media and have received support from other human rights activists, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

Authorities say NGOs are ‘unrealistic’

When asked for comment on the latest report, the Paris 2024 organizing committee stressed that it is not responsible for social policy or policing.

The Department of Social Affairs said it was taking the concerns “seriously” and had “regularly” consulted charities.

The cabinet director of the Paris regional prefect, responsible for police and security, defended the government’s policies and suggested the “other side of the coin” was unrealistic.

“They want the Olympic Games to be a magic word that will allow us to solve the ills of French society,” Christophe Noel du Payrat told the French news agency AFP. “But we know that emergency shelter and social housing in the Paris region are under pressure.”

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

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