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Charities in Calais claim police harass British and other volunteers

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Charities in Calais claim police harass British and other volunteers
Photo: Philippe Huguen/ AFP
12:25 CEST+02:00
In a new report, UK and French migrant charities in Calais say their volunteers are being systematically bullied by the police.

The UK charity Help Refugees and other NGOs helping migrants in Calais have published a report claiming that their volunteers are systematically harassed and intimidated by the police.

The publication co-authored by UK charity Help Refugees and French NGOs Auberge des Migrants, Utopia56 and Refugee Info Bus lists no less than 646 incidents relating to police intimidation over the past eight months leading up to July.

It is based on evidence given by 33 volunteers.

"This intimidation ranges from systematic identity control to parking tickets, threats, insults and physical violence," the report said.

"These volunteers face many obstacles daily including active intimidation on behalf of the police. The French authorities do not only ignore their obligation when it comes to human rights but they also actively prevent volunteers from carrying out their humanitarian work."

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The report was handed over to a legal mediator.

The charities had previously lodged several complaints about police behaviour.

The mayor of Calais Nathalie Bouchart swiftly condemned to report, saying the accusations were completely unfounded.

"If the accusations were true, there is no doubt the authors of the report would have lodged a complaint to the public prosecutor and to the police disciplinary body, the IGPN. These charities - which only exist through there hateful and slanderous discourse towards the police - are only acting in this way for to be heard and for political gain," she said.

Volunteers however say they are watched and filmed on a daily basis. They describe police carrying out identity controls and body searches several times a week and say that police rummage through their belongings and search their cars.

One British witness described being body searched by a policeman.

"While I had my hands up in the air, he felt my chest three times. He then check my bottom and the inside of my thighs. He then grabbed my neck and then said 'Merci beaucoup'."

In the report, UK charities claimed they were sometimes singled out because they were British.

As an example, the report cites that only British organisations are banned from distributing food and basic goods to migrant women and children in Dunkirk, a town near Calais.  

Volunteers of the UK charity refugee Women Centre -who visit these women daily - describe being stopped and auditioned by the police as they were going to Dunkirk and said they were refused access to a lawyer.

"It was a very unpleasant experience," volunteer Louisa Cunliffe describes.

"We were never told why we had been arrested and we were never told about our rights.

"We were intimidated and threatened. We had the feeling we were targeted because of our nationality and because of our involvement with those exiled in Dunkirk"

Around 1,500 migrants live in Northern France, including between 350 to 400 migrants in Calais, all hoping to make it across the Channel to the UK.

Since 2016, the UK government has paid over £150 million (€166 million) for security and policing in Calais.

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