Migrants in France Say Police Abuse Is Common

Calais’s prefecture, the local government that oversees the police, disputed their depiction in the Human Rights Watch report and said the allegations that the police “gratuitously and systematically” used pepper spray were “calumnious.”

“The police in Calais work, as they do elsewhere in France, within a legal framework which allows them to conduct identity checks,” Fabien Sudry, prefect of the department of Pas-de-Calais, said in a statement. “In keeping with the prosecutor’s mandate, they can disperse groups and unauthorized gatherings and they can remove people who are in France illegally.”

Mr. Sudry said the police were also permitted to stop migrants from boarding the Eurostar train or from entering Calais’s port area. There have been 17,867 attempts so far this year, he said.

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A police officer confronted migrants in Calais in June.

Credit
Philippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Sudry said his office had received only three complaints about police conduct since the end of 2016, and he encouraged people who believe their rights have been violated to file complaints. Migrants living in insecure circumstances rarely have the wherewithal or the necessary language skills to do so, however, suggesting that number of formal complaints is not an accurate indicator of police abuse.

Migrants and aid workers complain that the police often take an aggressive stance toward migrants without provocation. Of the 61 migrants interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report, 57 said they had been hit with pepper spray at some point; 55 said they had been sprayed in the last two weeks. A day after being sprayed, aid workers say, children still suffer eye problems.

A 17-year-old identified in the report as Moti W., an Oromo from Ethiopia, told the rights group’s researchers: “This morning I was…

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