(Paris) – French authorities regularly subject migrant adults and children living in makeshift camps in the Calais region to degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch concludes in a report released today. Five years after the demolition by the French authorities of the vast migrant camp often nicknamed “the Jungle”, more than a thousand people live in camps in and around the city.
The 86-page report, entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”, documents the repeated operations mass deportation, almost daily police harassment and restrictions on the delivery of and access to humanitarian aid. The authorities implement these abusive practices mainly with the aim of forcing people to leave elsewhere, without resolving their migration status or lack of shelter and without deterring new arrivals.
“Nothing can justify subjecting people to daily humiliation and harassment”, according to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director of Human Rights Watch. “If the objective is to discourage migrants from regrouping in the north of France, these policies are a blatant failure, and cause serious suffering. “
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 60 migrants, 40 of whom identified as unaccompanied children, in and around Calais, as well as in the neighboring commune of Grande-Synthe, from October to December 2020, and then from June to July 2021. Human Rights Watch also met with officials from the prefecture and department of Pas-de-Calais, as well as from the town hall of Grande-Synthe.
About two thousand people, including at least 300 unaccompanied children, lived in camps in Calais and its surroundings in mid-2021, according to humanitarian associations. Several hundred additional people, including many families with children, have settled in a forest in Grande-Synthe, near the town of Dunkirk.
Police actions to remove adults and migrants from Calais and Grande-Synthe have not discouraged new arrivals and do not appear to have reduced the number of irregular Channel crossings, which broke records in July and August. On the other hand, these policewomen have a growing distress towards migrants.
“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything. But 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 very frequently require migrants to temporarily leave the land they are on while they confiscate – and often destroy – tents, tarpaulins and bags that people have failed to take away. with them. During the year 2020 and the first half of 2021, the police subjected most of the camps in Calais to these routine evictions on about every other day. In Grande-Synthe, these evictions took place once or twice a week.
In 2020, the police have process to more than 950 routine eviction operations in Calais and at least 90 routine evictions in Grande-Synthe, seizing nearly 5,000 tents and tarpaulins and hundreds of sleeping bags and blankets, according to Human rights observers (HRO), an association that regularly monitors evictions from these camps by the police.
The police also regularly evict all occupants of a camp, claiming that they are “sheltering” operations. But shelter is only provided for a few days. Moreover, the authorities carrying out these collective expulsions do not effectively ensure the identification of unaccompanied children and do not take specific measures to protect them.
As a result of these tactics, children and adults are constantly on the alert and focused on their day-to-day survival. Many are haggard, sleep deprived and, as has observe the French institution of the Defender of Rights in September 2020, “In a state of physical and mental exhaustion”.
The authorities are also placing legal and practical restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid and on access to such aid. Municipal decrees prohibit the distribution of food and water by humanitarian associations in the city center of Calais. Sites where state assistance is provided are often displaced; or the aid is distributed at the same time as the evictions.
The authorities’ services do not meet the needs of women and girls. The makeshift camps in Calais do not have separate toilets for women and there are no toilets in Grande-Synthe. Existing toilets are also not properly lit, putting women and girls at risk. All the people living in the camps lack water because of the difficulty in accessing it, but this poses particular problems for women and girls during their periods.
Emergency accommodation in France is in principle accessible to anyone who needs it, but the system is overwhelmed. Emergency accommodation in Calais is often full and even more limited in Grande-Synthe. Emergency accommodation is usually limited to a few nights, even for families with young children. There is a separate emergency reception system for unaccompanied minors, but it is also often full or almost complete, and many children are given access to it.
The police also harassed volunteers from HRO,Utopia 56 and other non-governmental associations which observe the police during evictions. Some police officers falsely told observers that they could not film their operations, threatening them with arrest.
These abusive practices contribute to an emission policy by which the authorities seek to eliminate or avoid anything which, in their eyes, attracts migrants to the north of France or encourages the establishment of camps. This approach does not take into account the reality, namely that the real attraction of this coast is close to the United Kingdom, located only 30 km at the level of the pas de Calais.
“The exiles do not travel to northern France because they have heard that they could camp there in the woods or sleep under a bridge. They don’t come because associations distribute a little water and food. They come because that’s where the border is ”, explained Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of Utopia 56.
The end of the Brexit transition period means that the UK can no longer attract most asylum seekers to France without adults reviewing their asylum claims. The UK government has also stopped accepting new transfer requests on behalf of family reunification, which was in practice the only legal option allowing unaccompanied children to enter the UK.
The prefects of Pas-de-Calais and Nord, departments where Calais and Grande-Synthe are located, must end repeated expulsions from migrant camps and stop seizing people’s property, Human Rights Watch said. The prefectures must work in concert with the departmental authorities to provide alternative accommodation solutions capable of allowing people to settle down and help them make informed choices, such as applying for asylum or another status in France or elsewhere. , or go back to their country of origin.
The French child protection authorities must do more to inform unaccompanied children about the options available to them, in particular including the child welfare system, allowing them to access a status legal when they come of age.
The European Union should put in place a system of sharing responsibilities between its Member States which avoids placing excessive pressure on the countries of first arrival and the countries of destination taken more, and which takes account of family and social links. , as well as the individual preferences of asylum seekers.
The UK government should put in place safe and authorized means for migrants to come to the UK to seek refuge, to be reunited with family members, to work or study.
“The French authorities must give up their failing strategy with regard to migrants”, conclusion Bénédicte Jeannerod. “They need to take a new approach to helping people, instead of constantly harassing and abusing them. “