Rights group Amnesty International says French authorities are harassing, intimidating and even assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France. Activists report that this "deliberate attempt" to discourage their work is taking its toll on their own wellbeing and on those they are trying to help.
Amnesty International said Wednesday that French security forces deliberately attempt to "curtail acts of solidarity" offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in northern France.
In a new report titled "Targetting Solidarity", the international rights organization investigates the plight of individuals or groups who help people on the move in Calais and Grande-Synthe, where around 1,200 migrants are living in precarious conditions. "French authorities have harassed, intimidated and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support," the report concludes.
Amnesty points out that migrants are subject to evictions, harassment and violence at the hands of the police. In addition, refugees and migrants have no regular access to food, water, sanitation, shelter or legal assistance. Lisa Maracani, Amnesty's human rights defenders researcher, said: "Providing food to the hungry and warmth to the homeless have become increasingly risky activities in northern France.”
Threats of arrest and abuse
According to Amnesty, several human rights defenders allegedly reported that acts of intimidation, threats of arrest and abuse have become "part and parcel of their daily work."
“I feel that I am caught between the acute needs of people I am trying to help and the intimidation of French authorities who are trying to hamper humanitarian activities and label our activities as crimes,” Loan Torondel, a humanitarian worker who had been working in Calais, told Amnesty.
Another humanitarian worker said she was violently pushed to the ground and choked by police in June 2018 after she had filmed four officers chasing a foreign national in Calais.
Amnesty said activists have experienced insomnia, stress and anxiety.After the 'Jungle'
In October 2016, French police razed the so-called "Jungle" shanty town at the port city of Calais. At its peak, the camp was home to around 10,000 people who hoped to continue their journey to the United Kingdom.
According to Amnesty, more than 1,200 people are still living precarious lives in tents and informal camps in the area around Calais. Aid organizations working in the area have reported that police dismantle informal tent camps on a daily basis.
The Amnesty report was issued after a French court on Monday sentenced an imam to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats.
The 39-year-old preacher, who is of Iranian origin and was granted political asylum in France, has been convicted of organizing several crossings from northern France to England since last December.
With material from AFP