Charities in Calais claim police harass British and other volunteers

In a new report, UK and French migrant charities in Calais say their volunteers are being systematically bullied by the police.

Charities in Calais claim police harass British and other volunteers
Photo: Philippe Huguen/ AFP

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.”





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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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.