France harassing, intimidating migrant helpers: Amnesty

2019-06-05 09:14
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday accused French authorities of harassing, intimidating and even assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France in a deliberate attempt to discourage their work.

In a new report, Amnesty said the security forces were engaged in a deliberate attempt "to curtail acts of solidarity" offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

"French authorities have harassed, intimidated and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support," said the report, entitled "Targeting Solidarity".

"Providing food to the hungry and warmth to the homeless have become increasingly risky activities in northern France, as the authorities regularly target people offering help to migrants and refugees," said Lisa Maracani, Amnesty's Human Rights Defenders Researcher.

France in October 2016 razed the so-called "Jungle" shanty town at the port city of Calais, which at its peak was home to around 10 000 people hoping to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain.

The migrants were taken to shelters around the country but activists have warned people still remain in the area and their situation is dire.

Amnesty said even after the demolition of the "Jungle" more than 1 200 people are still living precarious lives in tents and informal camps in the area around Calais.

"The role of human rights defenders who offer them support is crucial," Maracani added.

Amnesty said they have no regular access to food, water, sanitation, shelter or legal assistance and are subject to evictions, harassment, and violence at the hands of the police.

It said several human rights defenders told Amnesty that acts of intimidation, threats of arrest and abuse have become "part and parcel of their daily work".

One humanitarian worker told that she was violently pushed to the ground and choked by police in June 2018 after she had filmed four officers chasing a foreign national in Calais.

Amnesty said activists have experienced insomnia, stress and anxiety whilst others describe the impact of prosecutions as debilitating.

The Amnesty report was issued after a French court on Monday sentenced an imam to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats.

The 39-year-old preacher, who is of Iranian origin and was granted political asylum in France, is accused of organising several crossings from northern France to England since last December.

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