France’s degrading treatment of migrants in Calais

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French officials regularly subject adults and children living in migrant encampments around Calais to degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Five years after French authorities demolished the sprawling Calais migrant camp frequently called the “Jungle,” more than 1,000 people are staying in encampments in and around the town.

The 79-page report, “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France,” documents repeated mass eviction operations, near-daily police harassment, and restrictions on provision of and access to humanitarian assistance. 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.

“Subjecting people to daily harassment and humiliation is never justifiable,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 60 migrants, including 40 who identified themselves as unaccompanied children, in and around Calais and the nearby commune of Grande-Synthe from October through December 2020 and June to July 2021. Human Rights Watch also met with officials from the prefecture and child protection office for the Pas-de-Calais department, and the Grande-Synthe mayor’s office.

An estimated 2,000 people, including at least 300 unaccompanied children, were staying in and around encampments in Calais in mid-2021, according to humanitarian groups. Several hundred more, including many families with children, were in a forest in Grande-Synthe, adjacent to the city of Dunkerque (Dunkirk).

Policing efforts to push migrant adults and children out of Calais and Grande-Synthe have not discouraged new arrivals and do not appear to have reduced irregular Channel crossings, which hit record highs in July and August. But policing 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.

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