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French court sides with migrants, ordering restart of humanitarian aid

AmNews Staff Reports | 8/3/2017, 10:29 a.m.

Efforts by French officials to block humanitarian aid for African and other migrants seeking sanctuary at the port of Calais were forcefully rebuffed this week by France’s highest administrative court.

The court ordered the French government to immediately renew emergency aid to the desperate refugees sheltering at the infamous camp.

In blistering language, the court decried the squalid conditions facing migrants in the northern port city. It also rejected appeals by state and local authorities, both of which had resisted an earlier order to improve the situation.

“The living conditions of migrants reveal a failure of public authority, which is liable to expose the persons concerned to inhuman or degrading treatment and thus constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference with a fundamental freedom,” read the opinion of the court, known as the Conseil d’Etat.

The ruling comes less than a week after the publication of a sharply critical report from the NYC-based Human Rights Watch, based on conversations with approximately 60 migrants, about half of whom were minors. Those interviewed complained of police violence and regular disruptions of food aid and access to toilets and showers.

The HRW report, titled “Like Living in Hell,” detailed police abuses against children and adult migrants.

Since authorities closed the camp, known as the “Jungle,” between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants have been living on the streets and in wooded areas in and around Calais, HRW found.

Further, HRW found, riot police in Calais routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets and clothing; and sometimes use pepper spray on migrants’ food and water.

HRW charged, “Such police conduct in and around Calais is an abuse of power, violating the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as an unjustifiable interference with the migrants’ rights to food and water.”

The rights group’s findings were dismissed by local authorities. “These are allegations, individuals’ declarations, not based on fact,” said the deputy prefect for Calais.

Last year, approximately 6,000 migrants were evicted from the camp and sent to 400 welcome centers throughout France. Approximately 1,500 unaccompanied minors were left behind in reception centers.

Some communities have welcomed the newcomers, but others have not. In one small town, the arrival of 43 mostly single men, mostly from Sudan, was met with shouts of “Stop Migrants!” and “Migrants! Get out!”

Updates on the current situation can be found on the France24 website by clicking “InfoMigrants.