While Macron Praises Police and Denounces Aid Organisations, Refugees Suffer.
(This article was first published on “The Digital Warehouse” – January 18 2018)
FORTY aid organisations across France came together at a press conference, on Tuesday 16 January, to discuss the French government’s response to the European refugee crisis. Asylum and immigration policies implemented in France are getting tougher and making life more and more difficult for the vast majority of foreigners living and integrating in France. With President Emmanuel Macron looking to update existing policies, it looks like the situation will become more complex in the coming months.
L’Auberge des Migrants invited four displaced people sleeping on the streets in the area to talk at this press conference about their struggles. Macron did not make an appearance, preferring not to engage with the wider issue and only speak to those in CAES centres under heavily mediated circumstances.
Abraham and his brother Daniel, 21 and 22 respectively, from Afghanistan are third generation refugees. Both of them are well educated, fluent in both French and English. Their grandfather fled Afghanistan 42 years ago and settled in Tehran, Iran. The family remained in Tehran until recent conflicts forced them to flee. Nervously fidgeting, surrounded by a gaggle of journalists eager to hear their story, he tells us his message to President Macron:
“I ask him to help us…and to create a better condition for us in Calais. To try and understand why they [the refugees] are going to England and why they don’t want to stay in France.”
He smiles sadly when asked about the problems he and others face in France.
“There is some violence with police. The police are not very kind. We are sleeping in the forest…We have, not a tent, nothing to sleep in. So actually right now it is winter, it is very cold outside, there is rain, it is very windy.”
Le Monde has previously described Macron’s immigration policies as “severity without precedent”. Last week L’Obs news magazine published a cover of Macron surrounded by barbed wire. The title? “Bienvenue au Pays des Droits de L’Homme” or “Welcome to the Country of Human Rights”.
When asked the question of whether he and his brother felt safe in France, he responded saying:
“Maybe safe for the French people but not the refugee. And right now I don’t see human rights here in France.”
“You know before coming in France…I learnt to speak and write and [studied] French history. But coming here, it is making me very sad. I was never thinking that France is like what I am watching right now.”
“What I live today is actually 100% opposite to what I learnt. It is actually the opposite of what I learnt.”
While Macron has gone on record saying that “we [the French state] cannot take on the misery of the world,” Abraham has a different point of view towards both the UK and France’s responsibility towards displaced peoples:
“The UK, somehow like France, is everywhere in the world…When they go to Afghanistan they go for war, but when we come, we are here asking for peace and for asking help.”
Though Abraham and his family would like to return to Afghanistan, in their current situation it is no longer a safe place for them.
Whilst Abraham was describing failures of the French state and the current administration, Macron spent his day in Calais parroting rhetoric employed by far-Right Mayor Natacha Bouchart. Taking a similar line to her deranged outburst on Monday, he took aim at the efforts of humanitarian aid groups in the area. He claimed that they should take responsibility for “encouraging” people to risk their lives to reach humane living conditions.
Macron went on to attack aid organisations providing essential care to ensure the provision of basic rights of food and shelter; though he did go on to admit that food “was a service” the French state do not provide to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He continued this train of thought by announcing that the state would begin food distribution, declaring that the Government would take on “their fair share, in an organised way, without tolerating the installation of illegal camps.”
This statement was a surprise to both the journalists present and the prefecture, the latter of whom had been in discussions with local aid organisations to continue taking on the responsibility of the government but in a controlled static location.
In order for this State-sponsored mobile food distribution to occur, distribution points would have to be heavily militarised in order to guarantee the dispersal of groups who may wish to set up camp. Unfortunately, a report compiled by Human Rights Watch in July 2017 described rampant police violence and brutality towards displaced persons and endangered minors.
“Human Rights Watch finds that police in Calais, particularly the riot police (CRS), routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing; and sometimes use pepper spray on migrants’ food and water. Police also disrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Police abuses have a negative impact on access to child services and migrants’ desire and ability to apply for asylum.” — HRW JULY 2017
Macron doubled down on his support for the police stating that “critics have a single purpose: to undermine Government policy.” He went on to thank the police “who intervene in difficult situations to ensure the safety of French citizens and the movement of goods.” The President then promised the police force in the Calais area further financial support as a bonus for their “hard work”. His statements reflect a worrying precedent of ignoring systemic corruption in order to cultivate positive optics, in order to consolidate his youthful and sometimes contentious administration.
This was followed by a direct threat to aid organisations, challenging them to provide definitive proof of police brutality, or face defamation lawsuits. The police-led violence in Calais has been previously documented by Human Rights Watch and the Generale Inspectorate de la Police. La Voix du Nord last week also published an exposé investigating three suicides in two days within the Nord-Pas-de-Calais police force. They detailed ridiculous arrest quotas, a culture of violence and lack of psychological care as instigating factors.
A police officer named only as ‘C.’ said to La Voix du Nord: “Violence has become a crazy thing. We see situations settled with weapons. Moreover, our training is increasingly oriented towards physical protection. If you add personal problems to all of that, obviously you’ll go crazy.”
Another police officer known as ‘B.’ added, “we had a colleague who was not well. He committed suicide with his service weapon a few months ago. They did not even question the people who worked with him.” He goes on to describe the psychological demands as “overflowing” and that they need support in the area.
Both Macron and the UK government are pledging more financial support for border security in the area (the UK government are expected to allocate 51 million Euros). “The extra cash will go towards fencing, CCTV and other detection technology in Calais and other ports, possibly including Dunkirk. It will also be used to help relocate migrants from the port towns to other parts of France,” says the Guardian.
While both states renegotiate Le Touquet Treaty today, it seems that Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May would like to ignore the complexities of the situation on the ground in Northern France.
They would prefer to ignore the increasing reports of mental degradation of both the police force and the refugee community.
They would prefer to ignore the needs and concerns of human beings fleeing horrific conditions at home only to find horrific treatment in the countries they arrive in.
They would rather simplify the narrative and create an ‘us versus them’ conflict between the people they are failing at home and the people they have failed abroad.
“I would like that they take part in trying to understand why we’re here today,” says Abraham discussing the approach of both states involved. For now, it seems, both the UK and France would rather focus on (in the words of one UK government official) “investing and enhancing the security of the UK border.”