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POLICE

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais.
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.

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POLICE

Paris suburbs see third night of violence

The Parisian suburbs of Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France have seen clashes between residents and police, ever since an officer shot and killed the driver of a stolen van on Saturday.

Paris suburbs see third night of violence

Angry residents and police clashed for a third night in suburbs north of Paris, leading to 13 arrests following the fatal shooting of a father-of-four by an officer at the weekend, police said Tuesday.

Despite a heavy police presence to prevent further violence, several cars, a dozen bins and an abandoned sports centre were set alight overnight in the low-income Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France suburbs, a police source told AFP.

The unrest began Saturday after a police officer fatally shot the driver of a van that had been reported stolen and was being inspected at a traffic light in Sevran at around lunchtime.

The officer was hospitalised afterwards “in a state of shock,” local prosecutor Eric Mathais said Sunday, while internal police investigators have opened a probe into the incident.

Local people who knew the man named as Jean-Paul told AFP that he had taken a van owned by his employer who owed him wages.

They have also questioned how the officer could justify opening fire when his life was not in danger, which is the only justification for using a weapon under French law.

A protest march by the dead man’s family is expected in the next few days.

Residents in France’s multiracial suburbs often complain about heavy-handed policing methods and violence that have led to a series of scandals in recent years, including the February 2017 arrest of a black man who was allegedly sodomised with a police baton.

Police unions say officers often face hostility and attacks, and are faced with the difficult task of trying to maintain order in impoverished high-rise housing estates that in some cases are centres of drug dealing and other criminality.

The French government began a public consultation in February aimed at devising ways to increase public confidence in the police.

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