PARIS - Itâ€™s getting colder, the clock is ticking and regional authorities are scrambling to meet President Emmanuel Macronâ€™s deadline: get migrants off Franceâ€™s streets and out of forest hideouts by yearâ€™s end.
That wonâ€™t likely happen, and Macronâ€™s government is now tightening the screws: ramping up expulsions, raising pressure on economic migrants and allowing divisive ID checks in emergency shelters.
Critics contend that Macronâ€™s increasingly tough policy on migrants - though wrapped in a cloak of goodwill - contradicts his image as a humanist who defeated an anti-immigrant populist for the presidency, and has crossed a line passed by no other president in the land that prides itself as the cradle of human rights.
From snowy Alpine passes to the borders with Spain or Germany, migrants keep making their way to France. In Paris alone, police have evacuated around 30,000 people camping on sidewalks in the last two years.
No one doubts that Franceâ€™s system of dealing with migrants needs fixing, with a perennial housing shortage and long wait times in applying for asylum.
â€śLiving in the street. Living in a tent. Sometimes you get food. Sometimes you not get food,â€ť said Samsoor Rasooli, a 25-year-old Afghan standing in line since 6 a.m. to apply for asylum at a Paris facility, where some spend the night on the sidewalk, strewn with filth, to keep their place. The door closed at mid-day, the 100 places allotted that day for applicants filled.
â€śItâ€™s winter. I canâ€™t sleep in the street,â€ť Rasooli said.
Asylum opens the way for temporary housing, but only one-third of the 95,000 applicants this year were accepted, government officials say.
A camp of about 40 Afghan migrants was dismantled last week in the Pas-de-Calais region in northern France, and another was taken down in Macon in the east. On Thursday, a camp on the banks of the Seine river was the latest in Paris to be bulldozed, with 131 migrants taken to shelters.
Police staked out a tollbooth north of Paris in an operation against the â€śmigrant flux,â€ť stopping car after car to check for migrants who donâ€™t have residency documents.
Patrick Weil, among Franceâ€™s leading immigration specialists, said Macron â€śtweets about human rights and refugees during the day and at night gives the opposite orders.â€ť
Weil contended on BFM-TV that Macronâ€™s approach is â€śthe most extreme weâ€™ve had since the war.â€ť
Itâ€™s coated â€świth a smile, with bonbons, but in practice itâ€™s a dagger,â€ť he said.