French policeman jailed for six months for slapping Calais migrant in face

A French police officer who slapped a migrant in the face in Calais has been sentenced to six months behind bars. It comes after officers have been criticised for their mistreatment of refugees.

French policeman jailed for six months for slapping Calais migrant in face
Photo: AFP
The police officer's defense claimed the incident was an involuntary gesture against an agitated person. 
However the court in the Northern city of Boulogne-sur-Mer saw the incident which took place in a detention center near Calais in the summer of 2016 differently, handing him a six-month prison sentence.
The 40-year-old officer, who was a member of France's border police (PAF), slapped the migrant just before he was due to appear before a judge in a trial room at a detention center in Coquelles.  

French police blasted for 'routinely' using pepper spray on migrants

The officer slapped the migrant in the presence of a court clerk who then testified against him.
However his defense presented a somewhat different version of the story.
“It was an unfortunate act of protection, he did not want to slap,” said his lawyer Antoine Deguines. “This person was quite agitated, and was getting up all the time, and on the spur of the moment he  [the officer] stretched his arm which went in the person's face.”
The judgement against the officer, who has also been banned from holding a weapon for five years and suspended from performing public office for two years, comes at a time when the treatment of migrants and refugees by French border police is under scrutiny. 
A report conducted by the French state and released at the end of October said that it was “plausible” that police and gendarmes have abused their powers and mistreated migrants and refugees in Calais.
And in July, rights group Human Rights Watch blasted French police for their routine use of pepper spray against migrants in Calais in a report entitled “Like living in hell”. 
Of 61 migrants questioned by the prominent international human rights group between the end of June and the beginning of July, 55 said they had been sprayed during the two weeks before the interview, and some said they had been sprayed every day, the author of the report, Michael Garcia Bochenek, told AFP at the time
French police have also been accused of spraying migrants' food and bedding and confiscating blankets, shoes and food.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.