Brussels police remove homeless people before Tour de France | World news

The clearing of homeless immigrants from a park in Brussels through which the Tour de France will pass next week has led to claims that the municipality is seeking to protect the city’s image when it hosts the Grand Départ.

Belgian police moved about 90 people from Maximilian Park on Friday as authorities made fresh funding available to the city’s homelessness agency, Samusocial, for July.

Volunteers with Civic Platform, a charity working with refugees, claimed the police officers moving people on to the agency’s accommodation had cited the need to prepare for the Tour de France, which is due to start in Brussels on 6 July.

A spokesman for the office of the Brussels mayor, Philippe Close, denied the claims. The operation was said to have been necessary due to the recent removal of immigrants from Brussels-Nord station, which was heavily criticised as those affected had not been offered accommodation and had merely moved on to the park.

But Mehdi Kassou, a spokesman for Civic Platform, told Belgian media outlets he was unhappy with the conduct of the operation and its timing.

“The police only focused on people who were in the Maximilian Park and on the Willebroekkaai [a nearby road]. They had to leave. Those who were a little further away were left alone,” he said.

“Our volunteers called us in panic around 10.30pm because a police operation was held at the Maximilian Park with dogs.

“We can only rejoice that places have opened to accommodate people. We can however absolutely not be thankful for the manner in which things have been carried out. If the reasoning is one of commercial interest or image then these places are opening up for the wrong reason and we deplore such actions.”

According to a Facebook post by Civic Platform, the immigrants were told the operation was the first of a number of clearances planned to take place this week before the cycling race.

Samusocial was given €170,000 (£150,000) to provide the extra accommodation places a week before the park’s clearance.

A spokesman for the agency told De Morgen newspaper: “There is currently money to provide a month-long daycare. We hope that this period will be extended.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor said the decision to move the people out of the park had been made a month and a half ago and it was part of an attempt to answer complaints by local residents.

The need to respond to the increase in numbers at the park following the removal of people from Brussels-Nord station was said to have led to the clearance.

“We continue to look for a balance between the two groups of people involved,” the spokeswoman said.

“There are the refugees for whom we are looking for a humane solution and trying to provide a bed. And there are the local residents who want to see peace and quiet return to the park.”

Brussels has spent €11m on a series of promotional events as well as repairing roads and covering up tramlines in preparation for the Tour de France.

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