A report released on October 23, 2017, by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments has found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, Human Rights Watch said today. The French report comes almost exactly one year after authorities demolished the large migrant camp there, known colloquially as the “Jungle.”
The investigation and report were requested by the Interior Ministry in response to a July report by Human Rights Watch on police abuses against migrants in and around the city. The results of the French investigation are consistent with Human Rights Watch’s principal findings – that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.
“The investigation requested by the Interior Ministry confirms that police in Calais used excessive force and otherwise abuse migrants, including children,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Local and national authorities should put an end to these practices, discipline officers who abuse their power, and carry out the investigators’ recommendations.”
The French ombudsman’s office (Defenseur des Droits) and many of the aid groups operating in and around Calais, including L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees, have published similar reports of police abuse following the closure of the sprawling migrant camp one year ago this week.
Most of the abuses described to investigators were attributed to the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS). Among other findings, the French investigation noted that police forces do not regularly comply with the requirement that they wear badges with identifying numbers. As a result, members of the police force who commit abuses cannot be easily identified.
The investigators recommended, among other steps, that police forces ensure that officers are aware of the general rules for the use of aerosol sprays and receive specific instructions about methods authorized in specific operations. The investigators said that police should wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks. Human Rights Watch has long advocated requiring police to issue a record of identity checks, commonly called a stop form, as proof of a procedure and to enable accountability in case of abuse.
The investigators said that police forces should enter into dialogue with aid groups. They also said that improving migrants’ access to food, water, and other basic needs would reduce tension in Calais, and with it the need for police intervention.
Until July, local authorities attempted to prevent food distribution by aid groups and refused to provide migrants with access to drinking water and showers, saying that doing so would attract more migrants. The lack of basic services contributed to “a state of physical and mental exhaustion” and “inhuman living conditions” among migrants in and around Calais, the French ombudsman observed in June.
One question the investigators addressed at length is whether the hand-held aerosols used by police forces in Calais contain pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC) or teargas (the popular name for aerosols that usually include the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS), concluding that police employed teargas.
At the same time that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced the investigation that resulted in this week’s report, a ministry news release reacted to the Human Rights Watch report with the statement that police used teargas rather than pepper spray, as Human Rights Watch had reported. In fact, the effects of CS spray are more severe, and its long-term effects possibly more harmful, than those of OC pepper spray.
“Protracted debate on whether police forces use OC or CS aerosols misses the point,” Jeannerod said. “The real concern is the routine and indiscriminate way police use these sprays, amounting to excessive force.”
During the investigations, three investigation departments – the inspectorates for the National Police, the Gendarmerie National, and the French State (Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale, Inspection Générale de la Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Inspection Générale de l’Administration) – conducted 93 interviews with representatives of aid groups, police and other authorities, and migrants, as well as Human Rights Watch researchers.
“These recommendations are a step in the right direction,” Jeannerod said. “It’s particularly important for national and local authorities to recognize the urgency of addressing the humanitarian situation migrants face.”
Published on HRW on October 24, 2017.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.
For more than a year, MSF has been providing medical care to people held inside Tripoli detention centres in conditions that are neither humane nor dignified.
“Detainees are stripped of any human dignity, suffer ill treatment, and lack access to medical care,” says Dr Sibylle Sang, a medical advisor for MSF. “Every day we see how much unnecessary harm is being caused by detaining people in these conditions but there is only so much we can do to ease the suffering.”
Medical teams treat more than a thousand detainees every month for respiratory tract infections, acute watery diarrhoea, infestations of scabies and lice, and urinary tract infections. These diseases are directly caused or aggravated by detention conditions. Many detention centres are dangerously overcrowded, with the amount of space per detainee so limited that people are unable to stretch out at night, and there is little natural light or ventilation. Food shortages have led to adults suffering from acute malnutrition, with some patients needing urgent hospitalisation.
With no rule of law in Libya, the detention system is harmful and exploitative. There is a disturbing lack of oversight and regulation. Basic legal and procedural safeguards to prevent torture and ill-treatment are not respected. With no formal registration or proper record-keeping in place, once people are inside a detention centre there is no way to track what happens to them. This makes close monitoring and follow-up of patients extremely difficult. From one day to the next, people can be transferred between different detention centres or moved to undisclosed locations. Some patients simply disappear without a trace. The medical care MSF is able to provide in these circumstances is extremely limited.
Access to the detention centres is restricted when clashes take place between heavily armed militias in Tripoli. In addition, the management of the detention centres can change overnight and access to patients held inside has to be renegotiated. Other detention centres remain inaccessible for MSF due to ongoing violence and insecurity.
Increased funding alone is not the solution to alleviating the suffering of refugees and migrants being held in detention centres. A narrow focus on improving conditions of detention, while turning a blind eye to the complex reality of the current situation in Libya, risks legitimising and perpetrating a system in which people are detained arbitrarily, without recourse to the law, and are exposed to harm and exploitation.
MSF calls for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.
Published on MSF on September 1, 2017.