French police officers are continuing to assault and abuse refugees and migrants in Calais without retribution, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Wednesday.
The authorities are reportedly turning a blind eye to “widespread” reports of police brutality as police officers, especially riot police, abuse asylum seekers and migrants.
The report found officers routinely used pepper spray against migrants – including children, even as they sleep or pose no threat.
“It is reprehensible for police to use pepper spray on children and adults who are asleep or peacefully going about their day,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch’s France director.
“When police destroy or take migrants’ blankets, shoes, or food, they demean their profession as well as harm people whose rights they’ve sworn to uphold.”
The deputy prefect for Calais rejected HRW’s report that police used pepper spray indiscriminately and disproportionately.
“These are allegations, individuals’ declarations, that are not based on fact,” Vincent Berton said.
Since the unofficial refugee camp in Calais, colloquially referred to as ‘The Jungle’, was dismantled nine months ago, people have been forced to live on the streets of Calais or in the woods that surround it.
“Since they destroyed [the Calais camp] last year, there is no place to sleep or eat. It’s like living in hell,” said ‘Yeakob S.’, a 29-year-old Ethiopian man.
An estimated 400 migrants and asylum seekers, including 200 unaccompanied children are trying to travel to the United Kingdom from Calais in the hope of a better, more economically successful life.
HRW published their findings after they interviewed more than 60 asylum seekers and migrants, in addition to dozens of aid workers.
Local authorities barred humanitarian workers from distributing supplies, including food, water, blankets, and clothing in March, in a bid to prevent the migrants from settling in the surrounding area.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on July 12 that they would make the asylum procedure easier and improve housing options for migrants.