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NGOs accuse French police of brutality against refugees

This picture shows refugees standing among shelters at the camp in the northern French town of Calais, France, on May 27, 2016. (By AFP)

A group of international humanitarian organizations have accused French police of committing nearly 1,000 rights violations against refugees and asylum seekers in the northern town of Calais over the past year.

Four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — L’Auberge des Migrants, Refugee Info Bus, Utopia56, and Legal Shelter — said in a report on Wednesday that 972 incidents had been recorded over the space of a year by aid workers who had formed a human rights monitoring team in Calais.

The NGOs said one of the most serious incidents happened in January when French riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of refugees during the eviction of their sleeping area in the northern town.

The report said the riot police fired “chemical agent grenades indiscriminately into a crowd of displaced people in [an] attempt to disperse them.”

The incident, according to the NGOs, caused the loss of vision, sense of smell, and hearing in a 16-year-old Eritrean refugee boy.

The victim himself said that a rubber bullet gun was fired at him from a close range of 10 to 15 meters away.

“The [riot police] fired tear gas from guns and filled the sky with smoke,” the NGOs’ report quoted a British volunteer who witnessed the incident as saying. “I saw through the smoke a boy being carried by his friends, covered in blood. He had been hit in the eye and they had no way of getting him to hospital. His friends were crying; it was a group of minors and the boy himself was 16.”

The French police watchdog, IGPN, announced in June that it would open an investigation into the incident, which is yet to be concluded.

One testimony from a 21-year-old male refugee from Ethiopia on October 29, 2018 said that he had been beaten by police “too much,” and he later lost consciousness.

Volunteer workers at the NGOs said they had received at least 124 reports of physical violence by French police officers against refugees.

Charlotte Head, of the Human Rights Observers project, an organization set up in October 2017 to specifically quantify and investigate levels of violence by French police against refugees, denounced the rights violations as “unjustifiable.”

“Police forces are using inhumane methods to harass the displaced communities in northern France. In Calais, the violence that aid workers are seeing is unjustifiable and currently on the rise,” she said. “These people are seeking safety and their human rights are being violated by the very authorities that ought to be protecting them.”

Prominent rights groups have repeatedly accused French police of using excessive force against refugees in Calais.

There are currently 1,500 refugees living across Calais, including 100 unaccompanied minors and 10 family units, according to government reports.

Europe has been hit since 2014 by an unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular Syria. That flow has slowed but has not stopped.

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