The latest B.B.C. World News report highlighted the voyage of migrants in northern France crossing the channel to the British border. Approximately 1,000 people used this method to enter the U.K. on October 11th, and, the article claims, a total of “more than 20,000 [are] arriving this year.” While there is a sense of relief that migrant families are crossing the border with their children, these people have suffered from significant trauma, negligence, and exhaustion before their arrival. In a report published on October 7th, Human Rights Watch detailed 2,000 migrants’ journeys into the U.K. from northern France, outlining the distressing conditions migrant families were forced to endure and their repeated mistreatment by French police officers.
Adults and children have been forced to live in wooden houses, and others have had to take shelter in nearby forest areas. Until July of this year, there were a reported 300 children at the migrant campground in Calais, a city and major ferry port. This land is the only place of refuge that this community has. However, French authorities ruined the campground around 2016, Human Rights Watch says. French police officers have organized and carried out 90 mass evictions. This has neither “discouraged new arrivals,” nor “appear to have reduced irregular channel crossings,” the report said.
“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything. It is not possible for five people, including young children, to get dressed in five minutes in a tent,” a Kurdish woman said in her testimony for H.R.W.
In another statement, a French director at the organization decried these people’s treatment. “Subjecting people to daily harassment and humiliation is never justifiable. If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Bénédicte Jeannerod said.
“Calais and Grande-Synthe accounted for nearly 9 out of every 10 large-scale evictions in metropolitan France between November 2019 and October 2020,” the Observatory of Collective Evictions from Informal Living Spaces reported. But injustice against the migrants does not stop there. Families and children are deprived of necessities and aid due to restrictions enforced by the police. Police officers have thrown racist and sexist comments at the volunteer organization Utopia 56, which has actively worked to create connections between migrants with resources like emergency shelter and health care. H.R.W. also reported that the organization received hefty fines for “minor vehicle and traffic instructions,” which it said were issued to “intimidate” and prevent the group from helping.
When this extensive report was published, French interior minister Gérald Darmanin declared the organization’s findings “lies.”
It may surprise readers that France is yet another country witnessing persecution at its borders. However, the sad reality is that this isn’t something new. Rather, people have been struggling to cross the Channel into the U.K. since 1999, according to B.B.C. World News. During that time, asylum-seekers could find shelter at the Sangatte refugee camp. However, Sangatte was shut down in 2002, which provoked riots.
It is to be noted, however, that France isn’t the only country in the European Union to persecute its migrants. A couple of months ago, we saw a similar attitude showcased by Denmark. Hundreds of Syrian refugees were told to go back home after the government deemed certain areas in Syria “safe” to return to. As a result, migrant men, women, and children were raped, arbitrarily detained, and physically assaulted.
Over the past week, the world has also seen crisis unfolding at the border of Belarus, where thousands of migrants are making the challenging journey to create a new life for themselves.
Human Rights Watch has provided solutions to help migrant families at a local, national, and international level. In Calais, the organization mandates that migrants’ tents not be destroyed. Migrants’ tents are their only item of security, and local authorities do not provide shelter when they evict families. In addition, until proper accommodations for food, water, shelter, and health resources are facilitated, evictions are not to be carried out. If any minors arrive at the border without family, authorities at Child Protection Services must work in collaboration to facilitate safe, additional ways for them to cross the border.
To the government of France: work with the people, not against the people. To the E.U. and the rest of the world: help your migrants achieve citizenship status, and do not separate children from their families at the border.
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