France’s interior minister has publicly rebuffed a recent NGO report documenting “degrading treatment” of people on the move around Calais. Civil society groups are concerned about Dublin transfers of Afghans to other European countries, which they say may result in refoulement. Channel journeys and interceptions continue.

On 7 October, Human Rights Watch released a report alleging a “strategy of enforced misery” carried out by police against children and adults in encampments around Calais and Grande-Synthe. The research documented not only mass eviction operations and restrictions on volunteers but also excessive use of force and harassment by police officers. The interior minister hit back at the report, calling it “patently lies” because “not a single policeman or gendarme on the coast has been prosecuted”. The minister praised police for showing “humanity” towards migrants. In response, the director of Human Rights Watch France, Bénédicte Jeannerod, highlighted that the research comprised 60 interviews, including with 40 unaccompanied children, and took place over nine months from October 2020 until July 2021. Alongside first-hand testimonials, videos, photos and news reports demonstrated that abusive practices by the authorities have escalated in recent years. According to Jeannerod, “Abuses include near-constant police harassment, frequent and often brutal forced evictions of encampments, confiscation and regular destruction of tents, tarps, and meagre personal belongings, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance”. Further, NGOs are not alone in condemning cruel and forceful evictions of makeshift camps. The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, France’s national human rights institution (NHRI), also deems the evictions “appalling”. The NHRI “strongly denounces the relentlessness of the authorities towards migrants” and on 19 October called for the government to “put an immediate end to attacks on the dignity and fundamental rights of migrants”. The most recent large-scale eviction took place on 14 October when more than 1,000 people were removed from a field without being offered alternative accommodation.

Lawyers and NGOs say Afghans in France are endangered by the government’s insistence on conducting Dublin returns. Two months on from the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the French government has been accused of hypocrisy for promoting evacuation efforts from the country whilst simultaneously “playing ping-pong with exhausted and stressed Afghans”. Return flights to Afghanistan were suspended in July, yet Afghans continue to be detained in return facilities and are subject to Dublin orders to leave the territory. According to La Cimade, Dublin-transferring Afghans may expose them to refoulement. This is especially the case if receiving countries, which include Bulgaria and Croatia, are unable or unwilling to examine their asylum request. ECRE has consistently emphasised that Dublin transfers are not mandatory as the Dublin Regulation provides member states with the discretion to examine asylum claims themselves to avoid unnecessary human and practical costs.

1,288 people were recorded as leaving France to reach the UK by sea over the three days between 16 and 18 October. 806 of those people successfully reached the British coast while 482 other were returned to France after rescue and interception at sea. “Many” boats in distress were reported throughout the night of the 17 October when French forces conducted rescue operations involving at least seven boats. In one case, 40 people “in a state of hypothermia” were saved from a sinking boat and brought to Boulogne-sur-Mer. NGO Utopia 56 reported that 250 people on 11 boats had been rescued in distress on 18 October and arrived back in Calais “distressed and hypothermic”.

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Photo by Radek Homola on Unsplash.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.