France: Degrading treatment of migrants around Calais

(Paris) – French authorities routinely subject adults and children living in migrant camps around Calais to degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Five years after the demolition by the French authorities of the vast migrant camp in Calais, often called the “Jungle”, more than 1,000 people are staying in camps in and around the city.

The 79-page report, “Forced Death: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France,” documents repeated massive deportation operations, near-daily police harassment, and restrictions on provision and delivery. access to humanitarian aid. The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the main aim of forcing people to move, without addressing their migration status or lack of housing, or to deter new arrivals.

“Subjecting people to daily harassment and humiliation is never justifiable,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director of Human Rights Watch. “If the aim is to discourage migrants from congregating in the north of France, these policies are a clear failure and cause serious damage. “

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 60 migrants, including 40 who identified as unaccompanied children, in and around Calais and the neighboring commune of Grande-Synthe from October to December 2020 and from June to July 2021. Human Rights Watch also met with officials from the prefecture and child protection service of the Pas-de-Calais department and Grande-Synthe town hall.

Around 2,000 people, including at least 300 unaccompanied children, were staying in and around the Calais camps in mid-2021, according to humanitarian groups. Several hundred others, including many families with children, were in a forest in Grande-Synthe, bordering the town of Dunkirk (Dunkirk).

Police efforts to drive migrant adults and children out of Calais and Grande-Synthe have not deterred new arrivals and do not appear to have curtailed irregular Channel crossings, which reached record levels in July and August . But police practices have inflicted increasing misery on migrants.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything. It is not possible for five people, including young children, to get dressed in five minutes in a tent, ”a Kurdish woman from Iraq told Human Rights Watch in December 2020.

Police routinely ask migrants to temporarily vacate the land they occupy while police confiscate – and often destroy – tents, tarpaulins and sleeping bags that people have failed to take with them. The police subjected most of the camps in Calais to these routine eviction operations every two days in 2020 and in the first half of 2021. In Grande-Synthe, these evictions took place once or twice a week.

Police carried out more than 950 routine evictions in Calais and at least 90 routine evictions in Grande-Synthe in 2020, seizing nearly 5,000 tents and tarps and hundreds of sleeping bags and blankets, according to Human. Rights Observers (HRO), a group that monitors police evictions from these camps.

Police also periodically evict everyone from an encampment, claiming that these are “shelter” operations. But shelter is only provided for a few days. Authorities carrying out mass evictions also do not effectively identify and take specific measures to protect unaccompanied children.

These tactics keep children and adults constantly on the alert and focused on their day-to-day survival. Many are haggard, sleep deprived and, as the office of the national mediator, the French Defender of Rights, observed in September 2020, “in a state of physical and mental exhaustion”.

The authorities also imposed legal and practical restrictions on the delivery and access of humanitarian aid. Local decrees prohibit the distribution of food and water by humanitarian associations in the city center of Calais. Government aid sites are often relocated, or aid is distributed along with evictions.

Government services do not meet the needs of women and girls. The Calais camps do not have separate toilets for women, and Grande-Synthe does not. Toilets lack adequate lighting, with particular risks for women and girls. Barriers to accessing water mean scarcity for everyone and problems for women and girls during menstruation.

Emergency accommodation is in principle accessible to anyone who needs it in France, but the system is overwhelmed. The Calais shelters are often full and emergency accommodation is even more limited for those in Grande-Synthe. Emergency accommodation is generally limited to a few nights, even for families with young children. A separate shelter system for unaccompanied children is also often at or near capacity, with many children being turned away.

Police also harassed volunteers with HRO, Utopia 56 and other non-governmental groups who observe police behavior during evictions. Some police officers falsely told observers that they could not film the police operations, threatening them with arrest.

These abusive practices reinforce a policy of deterrence under which officials seek to eliminate or avoid anything they see as attracting migrants to northern France or encouraging the establishment of camps. This approach ignores the fact that the real draw is its proximity to the UK, 30 kilometers across the Strait of Pas de Calais.

“The exiles are not going to the north of France because they have heard that they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge. They don’t come because groups give them some food and water. They come because that’s where the border is, ”said Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of Utopia 56.

The end of the Brexit transition period means that the UK can no longer return most adult asylum seekers to France without first reviewing their asylum claim. The UK government has also stopped accepting new family reunification transfer requests, the only practical legal option for entry into the UK available to unaccompanied children.

The prefects of Pas-de-Calais and Nord, the departments in which Calais and Grande-Synthe are located, should end repeated expulsions from migrant camps and stop seizing people’s property, Human Rights Watch said. Prefectures should work with departmental authorities to offer alternative accommodation that provides people with stability and helps them make informed choices about applying for asylum or other status in France or elsewhere or returning to their country of origin. ‘origin.

French child protection authorities should do more to inform unaccompanied minors about their options, including entry into the child protection system, which offers the possibility of obtaining legal status at age 18 .

The European Union should create a system of responsibility-sharing between EU Member States which avoids unfair stressing on the countries of first arrival and the most popular countries of destination, and which takes due account of family and social ties as well. as the individual preferences of asylum seekers.

The UK government should develop safe and legal means for migrants to travel to the UK to seek safe refuge, reunite with family members, or work or study.

“The French authorities should abandon their failed playbook towards migrants of the past five years,” Jeannerod said. “They need a new approach to help people, not to repeatedly harass and mistreat them.”

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