France accused of harassing and intimidating charity workers at migrant camps

Human rights group Amnesty International has accused French authorities of harassing, intimidating and even assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France in a deliberate attempt to discourage their work.

France accused of harassing and intimidating charity workers at migrant camps
Thousands of people are living in dire conditions around Calais. Photo: AFP

In a new report published on Wednesday, Amnesty said the security forces were engaged in a deliberate attempt “to curtail acts of solidarity” offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

“French authorities have harassed, intimidated and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support,” said the report, entitled “Targeting Solidarity”.

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“Providing food to the hungry and warmth to the homeless have become increasingly risky activities in northern France, as the authorities regularly target people offering help to migrants and refugees,” said Lisa Maracani, Amnesty's Human Rights Defenders Researcher.

France in October 2016 razed the so-called “Jungle” shanty town at the port city of Calais, which at its peak was home to around 10,000 people hoping to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain.

The migrants were taken to shelters around the country but activists have warned people still remain in the area and their situation is dire.

Amnesty said even after the demolition of the “Jungle” more than 1,200 people are still living precarious lives in tents and informal camps in the  area around Calais. 

“The role of human rights defenders who offer them support is crucial,” Maracani added.

Amnesty said they have no regular access to food, water, sanitation, shelter or legal assistance and are subject to evictions, harassment, and violence at the hands of the police.

It said several human rights defenders told Amnesty that acts of intimidation, threats of arrest and abuse have become “part and parcel of their daily work.” 

One humanitarian worker told that she was violently pushed to the ground and choked by police in June 2018 after she had filmed four officers chasing a foreign national in Calais.

Amnesty said activists have experienced insomnia, stress and anxiety whilst others describe the impact of prosecutions as debilitating.

The Amnesty report was issued after a French court on Monday sentenced an imam to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats.

The 39-year-old preacher, who is of Iranian origin and was granted political asylum in France, is accused of organising several crossings from northern France to England since last December.

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Woman lost at sea after attempting to cross from France to Britain

British and French campaigners have warned about the dangers of migrant Channel crossings after a woman attempting the journey went missing after falling into the sea last week.

Woman lost at sea after attempting to cross from France to Britain
Authorities have warned that the crossing is dangerous. Photo: AFP

If confirmed, the woman's death would be the first casualty in what is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at Britain's Refugee Council, called for “more safe and regular routes of travel” for migrants, warning that the trip through heavy marine traffic was “treacherous”.

“This border kills, silently,” said Calais Migrant Solidarity, a French non-governmental organisation, protesting against border enforcement policies  it says are becoming “more and more violent”.

British rescuers launched a search last Friday after reports that three people with life jackets had fallen into the sea from a boat carrying migrants across the Channel.

Two of the missing migrants were found but a woman remained unaccounted for. The search, which also involved Belgian and French coastguards, was suspended on Saturday.

The UK Home Office interior ministry on Monday said a “thorough and extensive” air and sea search had been carried out and it would pursue an investigation into the incident.

“Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about loss of  life,” the ministry said in a statement.

Dozens of migrants have made the crossing in recent days.

Two were intercepted by British border guards last week crossing the 33km waterway in a kayak.

French authorities also last week rescued 11 migrants attempting the crossing after their boat capsized.