A French police operation in the migrant camp located near the Calais hospital on September 02, 2020. Every two days, migrants have to take their tents and belongings outside the perimeter | Photo: Mehdi Chebil
A French police operation in the migrant camp located near the Calais hospital on September 02, 2020. Every two days, migrants have to take their tents and belongings outside the perimeter | Photo: Mehdi Chebil

From June 14 to 20, Utopia 56 collected testimonies from migrants saying they have been victims of serious police violence in Calais. The association is concerned about a sharp increase in police violence since the clashes at the beginning of the month between the Eritrean community and the police there.

Utopia 56 spent a week in June collecting accounts from migrants who had been assaulted by police forces. The results are testimonies of police violence of a severity never before observed in Calais.

In a message posted on their Facebook page on June 22, the association lists the testimonies collected: tents being gassed, people being beaten, a police officer urinating on a man, people left barefoot on a highway ramp after their shoes were taken, and a man burned on the legs with a lighter.

"This violence usually happens at night, most of the time when people are trying to cross [to the UK], so nobody sees it," Siloé Médriane, coordinator of the Utopia 56 association in Calais, told InfoMigrants.

According to Médriane, tensions between migrants and law enforcement are often higher in the summer because of a rise in the number of arrivals in Calais and the resulting increase in attempts to cross to the UK.

But acts of violence committed by police officers or CRS have never been as serious as those recorded since the beginning of June. These include the report from a man who had "bloodied burn marks on his legs" and who told Utopia's teams "that he was restrained by police officers while one of their colleagues burned him with a lighter."

When asked by InfoMigrants about these claims of violence, the Pas-de-Calais prefecture did not respond to requests for more information.

Also read: France: 'Unpredictable' raids target migrants in Calais

Rare prosecutions

For the coordinator of Utopia, clashes between police officers and members of the Eritrean community during the night of June 1 marked the beginning of a significant increase in violence. The situation degenerated that evening after a migrant trying to cross into England was attacked by a police officer. Law enforcement officials said seven police officers were injured in the clashes. The migrants also reported injuries. Two of them are still in hospital after being seriously injured in their eyes by shots of explosive.

For the association, it is essential that violence committed against exiles be reported and documented. But, in reality, it is extremely rare that prosecutions are initiated. Migrants may be reluctant to file a complaint, knowing that the process will be long and that they hope to leave Calais as soon as possible.

Medical certificates to prove that they have been victims of police violence are also difficult to obtain. "It's a fight so that people already traumatized by violence can have access to their rights. Sometimes, we have to spend over seven hours in a hospital waiting to get a paper from a doctor that attests that the person was indeed a victim of police violence, based on his or her story," Médriane explains.

Also read: Numbers of migrants crossing English Channel continue to rise

Trivialization of violence

According to her, migrants may also tend to trivialize such violence. "They have potentially already suffered worse violence during their exile journey," notes Médriane. In order for reports of this violence to have more echo, Utopia 56 plans to refer the matter to the Human Rights Defender.

This summer, the tense situation has been exacerbated in Calais, where associations are still prohibited from distributing food to migrants and where evacuations of camps are now carried out at any time of the day. More and more migrants have nothing left to shelter and associations describe people who are "physically and psychologically exhausted."

"After an attack, people will not be able to sleep for several nights [for fear of being attacked again]. On top of that, migrants who don't have a tent or any equipment, they have to sleep on the ground on a piece of cardboard. All of this serves to accentuate the vulnerability of people," says Médriane. "The objective is clearly to dehumanize them."


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