Human Rights Watch denounces use of pepper spray against migrants in Calais

Calais is hell … The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), which investigates human rights violations around the world, has just drawn up an in-depth assessment of police violence in Calaisis.

On an unprecedented scale, the investigation by this independent and international NGO, made public on Wednesday July 26, was conducted based on interviews with more than 60 asylum seekers and migrants, including 31 unaccompanied children, in June and July. It emerges from this recurrent and often gratuitous violence by the police towards the exiles and the associations who help them to survive.

While migrants do not primarily complain of being beaten or insulted, they are unanimous in denouncing the daily use of pepper spray contained in the tear gas bombs available to the police.

This “chemical agent designed to control people behaving violently, causes temporary blindness, severe eye pain and breathing difficulties, which usually last thirty to forty minutes,” said the report. Food and water sprayed with pepper spray can no longer be consumed, while sleeping bags and clothing must be washed before they can be used again. “

Night and day

According to the work of this human rights organization, this gas is indeed very widely used against exiles, but also against the little they have, whether it is food or goods. . The case is not new but it has taken on an unprecedented scale since the executive evacuated the jungle in October 2016, and he is fighting foot by foot to avoid any reconstitution of a camp in Calaisis.

The author of this work, Michael Garcia Bochenek, a lawyer, finds characteristic the account of Nebay T., a 17-year-old Eritrean, who told him how “the sprinkles take place almost every night. The police approach us while we are sleeping and spray us with gas. They spray it all over our face, in our eyes, ” he explained.

What happens at night also happens during the day, as Layla A. shows. This 18-year-old woman told her that two days before her interview, she was walking “on the road”  : “  The police came by and used their sprays. It was evening, shortly after 8 p.m., they drove by the distribution point in their cars. They opened the window and sprayed me ”. Humanitarian workers also sometimes suffer the same fate in addition to identity checks, fines to their vehicle for lack of water in the windshield washer, for dirty mirrors or inconvenient parking.

In addition to the night and the times when migrants are isolated, far from the associations that help them, meal times also concentrate manifestations of violence of another kind. Nasim Z., an Afghan, told HRW that the police intentionally sprayed his meal and that he was hungry that night. Some days, distributions are banned, or arbitrarily stopped.

Deterrence strategy

A humanitarian worker – she wishes to remain anonymous – from Utopia 56, one of the grassroots associations, recounted having given two cans of water to a group of men. The next day they explained that the police had sprayed gas into it. Sarah Arrom, who also works for Utopia 56, has recorded several similar testimonies; like volunteers from another association, the Auberge des migrants.

These practices are not new. In recent years, Le Monde has interviewed exiles who had experienced this type of violence. However, the work of HRW goes further by highlighting their systematism. Proof that, like the suspect Bénédicte Jeannerod, the director of HRW France, it is a strategy of deterrence intended to prevent the exiles from resettling on the edge of the border with the United Kingdom, while the jungle has was dismantled in October 2016.

Unless it is even necessary to conclude, in accordance with an independent investigation called “Nobody Deserves to Live This Way!” “(Nobody deserves to live like this!) Conducted by the British Christine Beddoe for the Human Trafficking Foundation that in reality, ” the hostile acts of the French authorities [in Calais] have created a ‘ repulsive factor ‘ favoring trafficking to the United Kingdom ” .

Bénédicte Jeannerod, who signs after this work a series of recommendations that she made last night to the French government, believes that “the authorities should send a clear message to mean that police harassment, or any other form of abuse of power, will not be tolerated ”.

Contempt for human rights

The latter indeed recalls that “it is completely reprehensible that the police use pepper spray on children and adults asleep or in the process of peacefully going about their business” and insists that “when the police destroy or confiscate the blankets migrants, their shoes or even their food, they not only belittle their profession, but they harm people ”.

Yet nothing really pleads for his analysis to be heard in the current context of contempt for human rights. Moreover, when the organization presented its work to the sub-prefect of Calais, Vincent Berton on July 7, HRW reports that the latter simply refuted the results of the work. The report takes up its quote where it insists that “these are allegations, statements by people, which are not based on facts. These are calumnies ”. Fabien Sudry, prefect, regrets for his part “these unverified accusations which discredit our police forces, which work in Calais on difficult missions and which also benefit from the confidence of the population” .

This reaction is what, at bottom, most shocked the author of the investigation, Michaël Garcia Bochenek who considers with hindsight, “difficult to understand the denial of the French authorities, even after these clear, coherent, detailed reports and quite annoying police abuse. Instead of this willful blindness, the prefecture should examine police practices and ensure compliance with national and international standards ”.

Already, when Bernard Cazeneuve was Minister of the Interior, the latter refuted all the testimonies, believing that the migrants had only to file a complaint. This is the response he gave to HRW, which carried out a first survey on the same subject at the end of 2015.

So, in Calais, life goes on with its broken dreams and recurring nightmares like those of Gudina W., a 16-year-old Ethiopian who confided to the investigator: “When I sleep tonight, I will see the police. I will wake up and realize that I dreamed that the police were coming to hit me. This is what I dream of. “

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