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article imageParis refugee shelter opens to take migrants off street

By Colin Henry, Pauline Froissart (AFP)     Nov 10, 2016 in World

A refugee shelter with beds for 400 single men opened in Paris on Thursday, part of an ongoing drive to take asylum-seekers off French streets after the demolition of the Calais "Jungle" camp.

The centre in a disused railway yard near Gare du Nord station will take in 50-80 people a day -- the estimated number of migrants who arrive in Paris daily, most of whom end up sleeping rough.

They can spend up to 10 days at the site where they will receive medical care and advice on seeking asylum before being transferred to various refugee hostels.

Three Eritreans with backpacks and woolly caps were among the first to arrive at the site, where they were greeted by a "Welcome" sign in French, Arabic, Pashto, Dari and other languages.

"It's nice here," said Thierno Diallo, a 31-year-old Guinean after he entered the new shelter, adding that he had previously been sleeping on the street.

According to the Paris town hall, 60 men were housed in the camp by Thursday evening.

The plan is to process those in the centre quickly and move them on elsewhere to free up places for new arrivals.

A worker checks medical facilities at a new refugee centre  ahead of its opening  in northern Paris ...
A worker checks medical facilities at a new refugee centre, ahead of its opening, in northern Paris on November 8, 2016
Christophe Archambault, POOL/AFP/File

The centre is made up of a giant inflatable white-and-yellow reception hall and a 10,000-square-metre (110,000 square feet) hangar with dormitories, bathrooms, a canteen and a games area. Around 500 people have volunteered to assist the 120 staff.

"The idea is to create a place where every newly arrived migrant can be welcomed and offered dignified, humane shelter," said Bruno Morel, head of the Emmaus Solidarite housing charity in charge of the centre.

A separate facility for families and women will open in early 2017 in the southeastern suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine.

Unaccompanied minors will be sent to existing children's shelters around the city.

- 100,000 asylum requests -

The opening of the men's centre comes a week after police cleared a camp in northeast Paris where 3,800 people -- mostly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans -- had been living in tents and mattresses under an elevated metro line.

Last month  French authorities demolished the notorious "Jungle" shantytown in the norther...
Last month, French authorities demolished the notorious "Jungle" shantytown in the northern port city of Calais
Philippe Huguen, AFP/File

Last month, authorities also demolished the notorious "Jungle" shantytown in the northern port of Calais -- the main launchpad for attempts to smuggle across the Channel to Britain.

France's Socialist government is anxious to show it has a handle on migration in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Over the past year, the authorities have repeatedly cleared makeshift migrant settlements in northern Paris only for them to sprout up again.

To try to resolve the issue, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced in May she would create a refugee shelter operating to international standards.

Europe is grappling with its biggest migrant crisis since the aftermath of World War II.

More than 1.5 million people have crossed the Mediterranean since 2014 to escape wars, persecution or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

France has welcomed only a fraction of the newcomers.

In 2015, it received 73,500 new asylum requests, up 24 percent from the year before, according to interior ministry figures.

Authorities have forecast 100,000 new requests this year.

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