City clears out migrant encampment outside of the Watson Hotel in Midtown

The city cleared out the migrants Wednesday night who had spent the week camped outside of the Watson Hotel calling for better living conditions.

The sweep took place just before 8 p.m. and saw NYPD officers and DSNY workers descend upon the encampment. The migrants, who had been conducting a sit-in protest outside the hotel that started Sunday, were reportedly given two options by authorities: either go to a humanitarian relief center at the Red Hook terminal or a men’s homeless shelter.

However, a third unspoken option was to simply stay on the street—just elsewhere.

Migrants were moved out during the sweep. Photo by Dean Moses
Migrants grabbed their meager belongings. Photo by Dean Moses

According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, 12 migrants boarded a bus to Brooklyn earlier in the day and the holdouts were victims of misinformation.

Several sources within City Hall indicated to amNewYork Metro that they believe a number of activists stoked fear in asylum seekers—telling them that Red Hook is similar to a detention center, which caused chaos.

Advocates, on the other hand, stated that they were attempting to help immigrants strive for better accommodations after already traveling through so much to get to the Big Apple.

Some refugees boarded bus to Brooklyn Terminal earlier in the day. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Some refugees boarded bus to Brooklyn Terminal earlier in the day. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The protest began over the weekend when the single male migrants started to be moved out of the West 57 Street location to make room for women with children and came to an end when city agents literally moved the men and trashed the makeshift encampment.

While sanitation workers tossed seats and garbage left behind, the majority of migrants were loaded into school buses for the trip to Brooklyn—a small number of others left by themselves. Furious with the sweep, supporters of the protest could be heard yelling at NYPD officers for helping to conduct the removal.

Corinne Low, co-founder and Executive Director of the Open Hearts Initiative, issued a statement denouncing the city’s decision.

Advocates face-off with police. Photo by Dean Moses

“Instead of meeting asylum seekers’ reasonable demands for safe, stable shelter that offers privacy and dignity, the mayor handled this situation like he always seems to: with police. It’s a pattern we’ve seen in his escalation of sweeps since he first entered office. No one deserves to be ‘swept’ away, and the image of dozens of NYC cops confronting asylum seekers who have traveled thousands of miles in perilous conditions to have a chance of a better life is deeply disturbing. I hope the mayor finds his heart and finds a better way to negotiate challenges than blaming ‘outside agitators’ and showing disproportionate force whenever he doesn’t get his way. This sweep was a shameful act of cowardice,” Low said.

DSNY throw out items form the camp. Photo by Dean Moses
DSNY throw out items form the camp. Photo by Dean Moses

The mayor’s office has a different viewpoint, however.

With temperatures expected to drop over the weekend, Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor, said it was imperative for asylum seekers to have shelter, which he charges many of them now have.

“We are grateful that almost all single men who were staying at the Watson Hotel have chosen to heed our calls and come inside from the frigid temperatures tonight. The single men who were staying at the Watson have now all either chosen to transfer to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal — a humanitarian relief center that multiple elected officials today called a ‘warm’ location — or decided to leave our care by connecting with friends, family, or other networks,” Levy said.

On Jan. 31, Commissioner Manuel Castro of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs stressed that the City’s Brooklyn facility was created solely to provide immigration services to newly arrived migrants. He even confidently rode along with migrants to tour the relief center and listen to their concerns. 

Many migrants were loaded into school buses. Photo by Dean Moses
Many migrants were loaded into school buses. Photo by Dean Moses

“Tonight, a joint effort by multiple city agencies began to clean up the block and encourage the few dozen asylum seekers to come inside as temperatures continued to drop. Immediately, most of the asylum seekers decided to board our busses and go to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, while six asylum seekers chose to be reticketed to meet friends or family in other cities and the remaining asylum seekers chose to go their own ways as agitators outside the Watson continued to encourage them to endanger their lives in these freezing temperatures and not accept shelter,” Levy said.

Levy added that no arrests were made, and any items discarded were trash left behind on the street. Furthermore, he said, any items that the asylum seekers stored inside the hotel remain available for them to pick up.

“Additionally, those who chose to leave on their own tonight will still have the ability to enter the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal if they come to us tomorrow or in the future,” Levy added.

Still, some migrants told amNewYork Metro that the fight is not over. With the help of a translator one man who stood shivering, gripping his belongings said he would attempt to return to the Watson Hotel in the coming days.

Police overlooked the removal. Photo by Dean Moses