HRW: French Police Attacking Migrants, Including Children in Calais

France: Police Attacking Migrants, Including Children in Calais
Government Ignores Widespread Reports of Ill-Treatment

Police check identity documents after halting a distribution of food, water, and clothing in an industrial area of Calais shortly after midnight on June 30, 2017. © 2017 Mail on Sunday/Philip Ide

Paris (HRW) – French police in Calais routinely abuse asylum seekers and other migrants, Human Rights Watch said today. The French authorities turn a blind eye to the widespread reports of the abuse.

The 40-page report, “‘Like Living in Hell’: Police Abuses Against Child and Adult Migrants in Calais,” finds that police forces in Calais, particularly the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat. Police also regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, and have sometimes used pepper spray on migrants’ food and water, apparently to press them to leave the area. Such acts violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment as well as international standards on police conduct, which call for police to use force only when it is unavoidable, and then only with restraint, in proportion to the circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

“It is reprehensible for police to use pepper spray on children and adults who are asleep or peacefully going about their day,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch’s France director. “When police destroy or take migrants’ blankets, shoes, or food, they demean their profession as well as harm people whose rights they’ve sworn to uphold.”

After police halted an evening distribution of food and clothing, three officers stop and question a boy who had paused to change his shoes before returning to the wooded area where he and other migrants spend the night, May 2017.

The report is based on interviews with more than 60 asylum seekers and other migrants in and around Calais and Dunkerque, including 31 unaccompanied children, in June and July 2017. Human Rights Watch also met with the deputy prefect for Calais and officials in the Interior Ministry in Paris, and with numerous lawyers, social workers, and other staff and volunteers of nongovernmental organizations operating in Calais.

Over 400 asylum seekers and other migrants, most from EritreaEthiopia, and Afghanistan, are living on the streets and in wooded areas in and around Calais. As many as 200 are unaccompanied children. At least 300 more adults and children, Iraqi Kurds as well as Afghans and other nationalities, live in migrant camps in and around Dunkerque and Grande-Synthe, east of Calais.

The deputy prefect for Calais vehemently denied charges of police abuse, describing them as slander, but Human Rights Watch findings are based on consistent and detailed accounts by nearly every asylum seeker and migrant interviewed.

Human Rights Watch also found that local authorities have responded to the return of migrants to Calais in increasing numbers by impeding their access to food, water, and other basic necessities. A court found in March that local authorities efforts to bar distributions by aid groups amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) has also criticized these and other measures by local authorities, concluding that they contribute to “inhuman living conditions” for asylum seekers and migrants in Calais.

A second court ruling, issued on June 26, directed authorities to provide migrants with access to drinking water, toilets, and facilities for showering and washing clothes, with 10 days to comply. Authorities appealed the ruling on July 6. The appeal is scheduled to be heard on July 28.

Asylum seekers and other migrants in Calais stand in line at a late-night distribution of food, blankets, and clothing, March 2017. © 2017 Private

Seventeen-year-old Biniam T. told Human Rights Watch, “If they catch us when we are sleeping, they will spray us and take all of our stuff. Every two or three days they do this. They’ll come and take our blankets.”

Aid workers described one occasion when gendarmes bearing rifles surrounded them and multiple occasions when riot police otherwise forcibly blocked migrants’ access to aid workers and knocked food out of the workers hands.

When aid workers have tried to photograph or film these acts, police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or examining the contents without permission and without legal basis.

Until the end of October 2016, a sprawling, squalid shantytown on the edge of the city held as many as 10,000 asylum seekers and migrants, including many unaccompanied children, and municipal authorities in Calais speak frequently of their determination not to allow a migrant camp to be re-established on the city’s fringes.

Local authorities have particularly opposed calls to establish a migrant shelter or an asylum office in Calais, contending that it would encourage more migrants to travel to northern France. During a June 23, 2017 visit to Calais, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb echoed these sentiments.

At the same time, President Emmanuel Macron has promised a humane approach to refugees, including reforming the asylum system. At an European Union summit in Trieste, Italy, earlier in July, he said, “[T]he women and the men who first were coming from Syria, today are coming from Eritrea, or from many other countries, and who are fighting for freedom, must be welcomed in Europe, and especially in France. Therefore we will obviously do our part in this fight.”

Local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to adhere to international standards on the use of force and to refrain from conduct that interferes with aid delivery, subject to appropriate disciplinary action for abuse of authority or other misconduct, Human Rights Watch said. In particular, police should be instructed not to use pepper spray on migrants in any circumstances in which nonviolent means would be effective in achieving a legitimate purpose.

The Interior Ministry should also urgently remove obstacles to refugee protection, including by either establishing an asylum office in Calais or facilitating applications in existing offices. The ministry should work with appropriate agencies and humanitarian groups to provide accommodation as soon as possible to all asylum applicants and to arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.

Local and national authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have access to child protection services, including shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.

“Authorities should send a clear message that police harassment or other abuse of power will not be tolerated,” Jeannerod said. “The government should make sure that migrants are protected and able to apply for asylum.”

HRW: French police routinely pepper spray migrants, incl. children

Police forces on patrol pass under the closed Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

July 26, 2017 (InSerbia) — French authorities “routinely” pepper spray asylum seekers in Calais, even while they are asleep, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. It says that officers also use the spray on migrants’ food, and deploy batons against minors.

“Police in Calais, particularly the riot police, routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants in circumstances in which they pose no threat,” says the 40-page ‘Like Living in Hell’report, which was released on Tuesday.

The report is based on interviews of some 60 asylum seekers and other migrants who live around the port of Calais and nearby Dunkirk, as well as the interviews of dozens of aid workers.

HRW suggests that such behavior by police is partially driven by “a desire to keep down migrant numbers.”

According to the organization, police “regularly spray or confiscate” migrants’ sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, and sometimes pepper spray their food and water.

One Afghan man by the name of Nasim Z. told HRW that police intentionally pepper sprayed his food to leave him hungry.

“Such police conduct in and around Calais is an abuse of power, violating the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as an unjustifiable interference with the migrants’ rights to food and water,” the report states.

Police typically deploy pepper spray against migrants without any warning, according to the report.

“Every day, the police chase us. They use spray. They kick us. This is our life every day,” Waysira L., a 16-year-old from the Oromo community in east Africa said.

“It was daytime, and they came in a van. They sprayed us from the van. They didn’t say anything; they just sprayed,” Biniam T., a 17-year-old from Ethiopia recalled.

HRW said its personnel witnessed children with “bandages under their eyes” after being pepper sprayed, during visits to food distribution centers in June.

“…[A] police officer came up to me and sprayed me in the eyes. The spray also went into my nose,”Saare Y., a 16-year-old from Eritrea, said.

Officers also deploy batons and kick migrants when ordering them to leave food distribution areas, according to the report.

“The police said, ‘no more food.’ One police came up to me and hit me with his baton. He didn’t swing it; it was like he didn’t want to be seen, so he hit me like he was punching. It hit me here, in the ribs. It hurt so much,” said Abel G., a 16-year-old from Eritrea.

On multiple occasions, riot police “forcibly blocked” access to aid workers and “knocked food out of the workers’ hands when they attempted to give food to migrants.”

Police seized aid workers’ devices when they tried to take photos of the violations, according to HRW.

“Aid workers have begun to photograph or film these acts by police, as they are allowed to do under French law. In response, they say police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or examining the contents without permission,” the report states.

The report comes after the notorious Calais ‘Jungle’ camp was evacuated and shut down in October 2016, resulting in some 5,500 of its residents being sent to various housing facilities across France.

Meanwhile, Calais authorities have denied the information in the HRW report.

“These are allegations, individuals’ declarations, that are not based on fact. They are slanderous….”Vincent Berton, the deputy prefect for Calais, told the organization.

A total of 85,000 people applied for asylum in France in 2016, although that number does not include undocumented migrants, according to the Asylum Information Database. Most of the applications came from citizens of Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Albania.

Although French authorities dismantled the ‘Jungle’ camp nine months ago,

Calais still shows the effects of the closure. Some 400 to 600 migrants are believed to be scattered across the city, sleeping in the streets without any assistance or registration, according to estimates from aid agencies.

Many Calais residents have expressed strong opposition to the presence of migrants in the city, saying it is impossible to continue with their daily lives and accusing authorities of not doing enough.

The situation in Calais intensified earlier this month, when a mass brawl broke out in the city, between at least 100 migrants from Africa. Police responded by deploying tear gas.

On June 20, a driver died on the highway to Calais in an accident which was caused by a roadblock set up by migrants.