Police clear out a migrant camp in central Paris. Activists say it's a pre-Olympics sweep

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Activists help migrants to pack their belongings in a makeshift camp, early Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Paris. French police officers have evicted migrants from a makeshift camp in Paris a few steps away from the Seine River, as similar operations have been carried out by authorities ahead of the Olympics. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

PARIS – French police evicted migrants from a makeshift camp in Paris a few steps away from the River Seine on Tuesday, the latest operation in what aid groups call a campaign of ‘’social cleansing'' ahead of the Summer Olympics.

Before dawn on an unusually cold April morning, around 30 teenage boys and young men from West Africa were awakened by police and urged to pack their tents and belongings. Most of them were underage and in the process of seeking residency papers.

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"I was already scared but I am even more scared because I don’t know where to go,” said Boubacar Traoré, 16, who said he fled conflict in Burkina Faso, arriving in France two months ago.

The operation came days after police carried out a large-scale eviction at France’s biggest squatter camp in a suburb south of Paris.

Such evictions and evacuations of migrant tent camps happen every spring after the end of a winter ‘’truce'' during which authorities put such actions on hold.

But aid groups working with migrants and other vulnerable people in the Paris region say these efforts are intensifying ahead of the Olympics. They note that people are being sent far away from the capital instead of being offered shelter in the Paris region, where many asylum-seekers have upcoming court dates.

“The authorities want to have a clean place for the Olympics Games. They don’t want the tourists to see Paris as a city full of migrants and asylum seekers,” Elias Hufnagel, a volunteer with a group serving refugees and immigrants, said at the Paris tent camp Tuesday.

Paris police said the operation was carried out for security reasons, notably because the tent camp was near schools.

In a nearby street stood two large buses heading to Besançon, 400 kilometers (240 miles) southeast of Paris. Authorities proposed to relocate the young men there and offered them housing for three weeks. But most didn’t want to take up that offer, fearing being even more isolated and with no plan after the three weeks run out.

Traoré was among those who refused to travel because he is awaiting a court date in Paris in two days. It was unclear where he would sleep Tuesday night.

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