The decree preventing aid groups from distributing food to migrants in Calais has been deemed as "disproportionate" by a government commissioner who said the ban has "the effect of complicating the access to basic necessities of precarious populations".
A dozen migrant aid organizations -- including Secours Catholique, Médecins du Monde and the Auberge des Migrants -- have taken legal action to challenge a ban against food distribution to migrants in Calais that was issued by the region in September 2020.
This ban has since prohibited all food distributions in the city center which are not mandated by the state. The decree has been renewed every month for two years, with the exception of a period of three months this past summer when it was suspended. The decree was renewed once again until further notice on Monday, September 19, the day before it was the subject of a hearing in court.
Local authorities have argued in favor of the ban as a way to "put an end to disturbances to the public order [which occurred during the distributions, according to the prefect, editor's note], limit the health risks linked to undeclared gatherings" and fight against "harm to the public" created by waste left behind after the meals.
The arguments were discredited on Tuesday during a hearing at the Administrative Court of Lille when the court's government commissioner Paul Groutsch judged the decree as "disproportionate" and asked for its cancellation.
According to Groutsch, "the established disturbances to public order are isolated, occasional, not serious and not linked to distribution."
Concerning the health threat, he noted that the associations have demonstrated their "high level of preoccupation" with the risk, which they have addressed by passing out masks.
The issue of waste left behind was recognized, but the "simple installation of dumpsters nearby" would solve the problem.
State food distributions deemed 'insufficient'
The government commissioner also said that the food distributions provided by the only association authorized by the state -- Active Life --- were "quantitatively insufficient" given the number of migrants present in Calais. NGOs estimate there are around one thousand living in the area.
The migrants therefore depend "directly on the petitioning associations", Groutsch said, which have been hindered in their humanitarian action. He noted that the decree has "the effect of complicating the access to basic necessities of these precarious populations."
The associations welcomed Groutsch's remarks. "We have the feeling of having been heard by the government commissioner who went in our direction. Without the distributions of associations lacking a mandate by the state, people wouldn’t have anything to drink and eat in Calais," said Juliette Delaplace of Secours Catholique to AFP.
Others remain cautious despite the recent developments. "The signals are certainly positive, but it is a little early to declare victory," Pierre Roques of the Auberge des migrants told InfoMigrants. "We will see in a few weeks."
The Administrative Court of Lille is expected to announce its decision within two to three weeks. The conclusions of the government commissioner are not legally binding. It will be judges' role to decide whether to follow his proposals.
This is not the first time the decree has been challenged in court. In September 2020, when the decree was announced, the Administrative Court of Lille rejected the suspension request issued by the associations. The court upheld the decree, noting that "La Vie Active", the association mandated by the state, distributed water and meals. The associations then submitted an appeal with the Council of State -- in vain.