Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Election campaign posters for the upcoming general election are pictured in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
(Berlin) –The platforms of the German parties most likely to be elected to the Bundestag differ greatly on protection of human rights in foreign policy and migration and asylum policy, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
“The election platforms of the main German parties offer a clear roadmap for voters when it comes to making sure their elected representatives will protect human rights,” says Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Right Watch. “Of course, what matters is the actual political work after the elections, which we will closely monitor.”
 
Three parties, the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Social Democratic Party of Germany), Bündnis90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei – Free Democratic Party) – devote separate sections of their platforms to human rights in foreign policy.

In their shared platform, CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands – Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and CSU (Christlich Soziale Union in Bayern – Christian Social Union in Bavaria) seek to champion democracy, freedom, human rights, and Europe. They say that Germany’s role in the world should be based on its commitment to values like human dignity, protection and promotion of human rights, rule of law, democracy, and tolerance. The heading of the chapter on development cooperation refers to the close connection between human rights and development policy. However, there are no details about how to carry out these commitments. On migration and asylum policy, CDU/CSU agree that people in need should receive help. But they call for reduced migration, and quick and consistent deportation of rejected asylum seekers. They also praise the EU-Turkey deal, even though it has trapped asylum seekers and migrants in abusive conditions on the Greek islands.

The term “human rights” is not mentioned in the Bavaria Plan, the separate CSU election program. The CSU emphasizes, however, that the values of German foreign policy remain clear. These include international law, democracy, and rule of law. “Ending the persecution of Christians” is cited as a specific foreign policy goal, but there is no mention of protecting other religious denominations. The CSU advocates an arbitrary numerical limit on asylum seekers, irrespective of their protection claims, a violation of international law obligations, and limiting family reunification.

The SPD platform says that protecting and promoting human rights is a foreign policy priority. It says that peace and development are unthinkable without human rights. In concrete terms, this means that human rights activists need to be better protected, women fully involved in peace and security efforts, and LGBT individuals able to live free from violence. The party also advocates the expansion of corporate responsibility. The SPD also calls for strengthening international law and the International Criminal Court, and prosecuting those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It seeks to ban autonomous weapons, to contain arms exports – in particular, to ban the export of small arms – and to bind human rights standards for all trade, investment and economic partnership agreements. The platform asserts that migration policy should be based on respect for human rights and adherence to the international Refugee Convention, and says that the temporary suspension of family reunifications should be lifted.

The Linke’s (The Left) platform says that Germany should act in accordance with international law and universal human rights, including civil, economic, social, and cultural norms. German foreign policy should create a global social infrastructure that enables everyone to gain access to education, health, work, and a self-determined life in dignity and social security. The protection of human rights is a clear priority when it comes to a fair world economic order, corporate responsibility, and the right to food. The Linke says the production and export of arms should be stopped. It rejects invoking human rights to legitimize military intervention and calls for strengthening international law in this regard. It also says the German government should join the Additional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so that people whose rights are violated can appeal to the UN committee for a remedy. On asylum and migration policy, the party believes the basic right to asylum is not adequately guaranteed in the German constitution, and opposes an upper limit to asylum seekers, and restrictions on family reunification.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen's election platform on foreign policy contains a separate subsection on “Peace, Global Equity and Human Rights.” It says that foreign policy engagements should follow the guiding principles of human rights and international law. Specifically, it supports greater protection for human rights defenders and the appointment of dedicated human rights consultants at all German embassies, and the establishment of a council for peace, sustainability, and human rights to review government action related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The platform says that development policy should be based on human rights, that women’s rights are an important factor for foreign and development policy, and that there should be worldwide protection for LGBT people. Arms exports to conflict areas and countries in which severe human rights violations are taking place should be prohibited by law. The platform supports the principle of “responsibility to protect” in cases of crimes against humanity. It says that trade relationships should be held to human rights standards, and that companies are responsible for the social consequences of their actions. On migration and asylum policy, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen advocates protecting the right to asylum, and opposes an upper limit on asylum seekers and restrictions on family reunification.

The heading of the FDP’s chapter on foreign policy is “Freedom and Human Rights,” which it seeks to strengthen worldwide. It says that Germany should be prepared to provide military assistance to end severe human rights violations and that Germany should clearly condemn the oppression of members of the opposition and civil society in Russia. It also advocates sanctions against EU member states that permanently violate fundamental and human rights and calls for the worldwide recognition of the International Criminal Court. The party opposes discrimination against LGBT people worldwide. The party also wants to promote an international freedom of information treaty that would secure the global internet's freedom and independence and curtail its surveillance and censorship. The FDP considers the right to asylum non-negotiable and rejects any kind of fixed upper limit.

In the AfD’s (Alternative für Deutschland – Alternative for Germany) chapter on foreign and security policy, the term human rights is not mentioned. While the party commits itself to the values set down in the Charter of the United Nations and to the tenets of international law, the platform does not explain what this would mean in terms of protecting human rights. In its migration and asylum policy, the AfD calls for a restrictive amendment to the Basic Law as well as a renegotiation of the Refugee Convention to accommodate “the threat to Europe posed by population explosion and migration flows.”

“The election platforms clearly show the positions of parties contesting the Germany parliamentary elections when it comes to human rights,” Michalski said. “Now, it is up to voters to make a decision.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The entrance of the European Court of Justice is pictured in Luxembourg, January 26, 2017. Picture taken January 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Hold the champagne. It’s more of a sparkling water moment.

On September 6, the European Union's Court of Justice upheld the EU’s 2015 emergency plan requiring all member countries to relocate asylum seekers out of Italy and Greece, rejecting an attempt by Slovakia and Hungary to have it struck down.

The court said the temporary, mandatory plan was a reasonable step to share responsibility for asylum seekers at a time when thousands were arriving on Greek islands every day.

The ruling comes just a few weeks ahead of the plan’s formal end. It was a modest plan, designed to benefit a fraction of those arriving. Even so, it has fallen far short of its original target of 160,000 people to be relocated over a two-year period.

According to figures published this week, only 27,695 asylum seekers - 19,244 from Greece and 8,451 from Italy - have actually been relocated. Even after quotas were reduced, this is less than one-third of the overall goal. Only a handful of EU countries are on track to fulfil their obligations under the plan; most have relocated far fewer than required. Hungary and Poland, which backed the legal challenge to the plan, have not relocated a single person.

The court’s endorsement of the validity of a shared approach by EU member states to hosting and processing asylum seekers should help with tough negotiations ahead on creating a permanent relocation mechanism as well as fundamentally reforming EU asylum rules—particularly the Dublin Regulation—that place disproportionate pressure on member states at the EU's external borders that see most irregular arrivals.

At the very least, the ruling should encourage all EU governments to pledge more places and move quickly to relocate asylum seekers, including on the basis of broader eligibility criteria. Better still would be if EU governments took it as a signal to roll up their sleeves and agree a permanent scheme consistent with European values. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Immigration March, San Francisco, October 5, 2013

© 2013 Annette Bernhardt

 

The Trump Administration’s decision to end, in six-months, the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that suspends deportation for children brought to the United States illegally, puts those young people on the legislative trading block. The delay is part of a move to pressure Congress to pass new legislation before DACA’s expiration on March 5, 2018.

Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017

Announced by Attorney General Jeff Session today, Trump’s delay sets up a horse trade that pits the Dreamers against legal immigrants, including legally admitted refugees, under the Trump-backed RAISE Act, which aims to cut legal permanent immigration to the United States by half over the next decade. As the price for continuing some level of protection for the Dreamers, the “grand bargain” would also throw in funding for Trump’s border wall and more immigration detention facilities.

The problem: people are not horses.

DACA has shielded more than 785,000 young people in the United States from being deported, allowing them to work, go to school, and lead lives as normal as possible short of being able to legalize their immigration status. DACA is, at best, a temporary fix, an exercise in prosecutorial discretion. Importantly, it directs the enforcers of U.S. immigration law to go after bigger fish, such as people with criminal records. But it is not a permanent solution.

Trump’s end to the program may have been forced by a threatened lawsuit from a small group of Republican state attorneys general who gave him an ultimatum to shut down DACA by September 5. But while Trump has expressed qualms about deporting Dreamers in the past, he shows his hand in his willingness to abandon these vulnerable young people for a chance to decrease numbers of legally admitted immigrants and refugees.

Trump's RAISE Act would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

The White House announcement sets a timeline for members of Congress who want to continue some form of protection for young people and ties their fate to legislators’ willingness to cut legal immigration. Under the RAISE Act, this would be achieved mostly by curtailing family-based immigration categories, but also by capping the number of refugees admitted at 50,000 per year, a 41 percent drop from the number admitted last year. The bill would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

If Congress rejects Trump’s demands, it will mean an end to the temporary protection of Dreamers. The result could be mass deportations of young people who have lived most of their lives in the United States to countries where many have only the most superficial connections. Their apprehension will only be made easier by their having provided names and addresses to register with DACA.

Trump's RAISE Act would reduce the total number of legally admitted immigrants by 41 percent the first year, and by 50 percent within 10 years.

Bill Frelick

Director, Refugee Rights Program

Painfully, if the price of letting Dreamers stay is cutting legal immigration, then many families waiting for years to be united will see their hopes dashed; and the United States will provide refuge for at least 35,000 fewer people per year than it did last year, putting safe harbor further out of reach for many of the world’s refugees.

The deal holds Dreamers hostage to Trump’s budget boosts for his wasteful border wall with Mexico along with more immigration detention facilities, where Human Rights Watch has found serious abuses. Trump’s request to Congress this year alone, for a wall estimated to cost more than $21 billion, is $1.6 billion. Since apparently Trump lacks the leverage to make Mexico pay for it, he is now exerting pressure on Congress.

Congress and the Trump Administration do need to set immigration priorities. But pitting one marginalized group against another, and using them as bargaining chips is unseemly and fundamentally dehumanizing.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After police halted an evening distribution of food and clothing, three officers stop and question a boy who had paused to change his shoes before returning to the wooded area where he and other migrants spend the night, May 2017. 

© 2017 Help Refugees

In Calais at the end of June, I spoke to a 17-year-old Ethiopian boy (I’ll call him Biniam T.). He said French riot police (the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS) had sprayed him with a chemical substance as he was walking with some other boys along the side of a road: “It was the daytime, and they came in a van. They sprayed us from the van. They didn’t say anything; they just sprayed.”

It wasn’t the first time I heard such an account—in fact, nearly every one of the children and adults I interviewed had a similar story. Nor was it the only time police had subjected Biniam to such treatment. “If they catch us when we are sleeping, they will spray us and take all of our stuff. Every two or three days they do this,” he said. “This is normal for us. It’s part of our life.”

Conditions for migrants in Calais may soon improve, at least marginally. Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced on July 31 that the state would open new shelters for migrants, provide access to water, toilets, and showers and investigate reports of excessive use of force by police.

This is a positive, if initial, response to the Human Rights Watch report last week of widespread police abuses against migrants in Calais and a court decision this week from France’s highest administrative court sharply criticizing officials’ refusal to provide water and other humanitarian assistance to migrants. City officials had at first opposed the Interior Ministry’s plans and had vowed not to comply with the court order.

And the minister also challenged our finding that riot police routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants when they pose no conceivable threat. A ministry news release stated that police use teargas rather than pepper spray. “I reiterate that in the security forces, there is no use of pepper spray,” he  told reporters, adding,  “There could be some misconduct by individuals.”

Why the ministry would think tear gas would be better than pepper spray is anyone’s guess. Tear gas (usually containing the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS) and pepper spray cause similar symptoms, including a painful, burning sensation in the eyes and difficulty breathing, although the effects of tear gas often last far longer and can be more severe than those of pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC). Tear gas is a nerve agent, and frequent exposure has been associated with long-term decreases in pulmonary function and increases in respiratory complaints. Put more plainly, people who have been repeatedly exposed to tear gas don’t breathe as well as the average person, even months afterward.

We can say confidently that riot police carry hand-held spray canisters as well as tear gas grenade launchers. I saw both in the hands of police dispersing aid distributions in Calais. Nearly every migrant I spoke with said they had been sprayed by police at close range, usually in the face, most within the previous two weeks. Aid workers said they had witnessed the same, and two aid workers told us a police officer had sprayed them in the face.

It’s possible that the sprays used by the French riot police contain teargas rather than pepper spray. At least one company that sells equipment to French police forces sells hand-held spray canisters containing CS tear gas as well as pepper spray.

We described the chemical sprays used by French riot police in Calais as pepper spray because the symptoms that migrants and those who treated them reported to us were more consistent with pepper spray and news reports on the riot police’s arsenal have stated that it includes pepper spray.

Whatever the police are using, the accounts we heard suggest that they do so routinely and abusively. They also regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, and sometimes migrants’ food and water, apparently to pressure them to leave the area. Such acts violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment and international standards that call for police to use force only when it is unavoidable, and then only in proportion to the circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

The police abuses we documented in Calais are serious human rights violations. They also adversely affect migrants’ willingness to apply for asylum and, in the case of children, to enter the protection system.

The Interior Ministry’s investigations should assess all relevant evidence, including accounts from aid workers who can corroborate elements of migrants’ accounts—injuries and other symptoms they’ve observed, the repeated requests they receive for sleeping bags and clothing, and abusive practices they’ve witnessed or directly experienced.

Investigators should bear in mind that many people who have been sprayed will be unable to identify individual police officers. Those who can may reasonably fear retaliation. All will need concrete assurances that these investigations will confront bad practices.

The announced investigations are a good start in addressing these pernicious practices—but only if they’re comprehensive, public, and lead to individual sanctions where appropriate.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Refugee children take part in a protest in March 2015 against their resettlement on Nauru and living conditions on the island.

© 2016 Private

Migrant children might soon be separated from their parents as a matter of course when families enter the United States irregularly, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told CNN in early March. Under the proposal, which another Homeland Security official described as among the options the department is considering to “discourage [others] from even beginning the journey,” separated parents would be detained in jail-like facilities while children would be placed in foster homes or shelters for children.

The suggestion rightly drew considerable criticism, and by early April, Secretary Kelly had begun to back away from it. “The idea that the government would cause harm to children to dissuade other families from crossing the border is cynical in the extreme,” my colleague Clara Long wrote in response.

Holding children in immigration detention is a recurring, if abusive, practice around the world, as Australia, Europe, and the United States each seek ways to respond to recent migration flows.

To be sure, it’s unusual to deliberately separate young children from their mothers, as the US proposal would do. But families are frequently split up, with men held separately from women and children. It’s also common for countries to detain unaccompanied children, sometimes for protracted periods.

As one example, Mexico began to detain unaccompanied children as well as adults in large numbers after 2014, at least partly at the urging of US authorities who sought to “stem the flow” of Central American asylum seekers, in the words of Lev D. Kubiak, the assistant director of international operations for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in testimony before a House subcommittee in June 2015. Mexican immigration authorities apprehended more than 20,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2015 and over 17,500 in 2016, detaining the vast majority.

In Europe, Hungary has just adopted a measure allowing its authorities to detain asylum seekers on its territory, including families with children and unaccompanied children age 14 and above. Belgium, which had been something of a regional model after it eliminated immigration detention for families in 2009, announced at the end of 2016 that it planned to resume the practice sometime this year.

In perhaps the most extreme and flagrantly abusive use of immigration detention, Australia has forcibly transferred all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, including unaccompanied children and families with children, to offshore facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The asylum seekers sent there face the choice of indefinite banishment to those countries, relocation to Cambodia, or return to the countries they fled.

Practices such as these are a particularly inhumane response to humanitarian crises. It’s no mystery why Central American children flee their home countries in large numbers, on their own or with their families. Gang violence has plagued Central America’s Northern Triangle for decades, and children are particularly targeted. It’s not uncommon to hear reports that 13-year-olds, or even younger children, were shot in the head, or had their throats slit, or were tortured and left to die, as Óscar Martínez observed in The Nation.

Many of the arrivals to Europe, including large numbers of unaccompanied children, are coming from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen or from highly repressive states, Eritrea and Ethiopia among them.

Similarly, Australia’s offshore operations on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island house men, women, and children from these and other countries who fled armed conflict or sustained persecution because of their political beliefs, religion, or ethnic origin.

Detention has particularly devastating human consequences, which is why international standards discourage detaining asylum seekers and call on countries to end the immigration detention of children. Nevertheless, politicians and policymakers frequently turn a blind eye to the abuses immigration detention entails. What’s more, they sometimes attempt to justify detention in terms that suggest that it somehow serves the “greater good.” The reality, as I’ve seen, is anything but humane.

The Effects of Immigration Detention on Mental Well-Being

Perhaps nowhere are the adverse effects of immigration detention more evident than in Australia’s offshore operations on Manus Island and Nauru, where refugees and asylum seekers have been warehoused for more than three years. A leaked report by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, found, in fact, that post-traumatic stress disorder and depression “have reached epidemic proportions” among those held in both locations.

I’ve been to the facilities on both islands, and many of those I spoke with told me they were seriously considering suicide. More than a dozen adults and some of the children I and an Amnesty International researcher interviewed on Nauru had tried to kill themselves at least once by overdosing on medication, swallowing bleach, other cleaning products, or razors, hanging or strangling themselves, or setting themselves on fire. “I’m tired of my life,” a 15-year-old girl said, telling me that she had tried to commit suicide twice since she arrived on the island.

Children who were separated from one of their parents suffered particularly dramatic and immediate downturns in their mental state. A woman whose husband had been transferred to Australia for medical treatment told me that their 9-year-old son began to repeatedly talk about killing himself: “Two weeks ago, my son took the lighter. He said, ‘I want to burn myself. Why should I be alive? I want my daddy. I miss my daddy.’ I look in his eyes and I see sadness.”

The father of another boy reported that his son had begun to have violent mood swings, stopped speaking, and avoided leaving his room after the boy’s mother was transferred to Australia for medical care without advance warning.

These kinds of adverse effects on mental well-being aren’t restricted to places like Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Human Rights Watch documented similar feelings of depression and suicidal feelings among asylum-seeking mothers and children detained for long periods in the United States. In Greece, where unaccompanied children are frequently held in police custody with no access to mental health care, we’ve spoken to children who appeared to be experiencing psychological distress and in some cases had attempted to harm themselves.

Whatever the circumstances, immigration detention causes significant harm to children and adults. Studies by Physicians for Human Rights and the Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture, among others, have found that detained asylum seekers suffered high levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder and that their mental health worsened with continued detention.

Children, in particular, can experience extreme distress in reaction to even short periods of confinement. Research shows that they may become aggressive, display separation anxiety, have difficulty sleeping, and suffer loss of appetite.

These consequences are lasting: children continue to experience emotional distress for months after leaving detention settings. In light of these outcomes, a 2014 survey of pediatricians by the Medical Journal of Australia found that 80 percent of those responding believed that the mandatory detention of asylum-seeking children amounted to child abuse.

The Impact on Children’s Protection Claims

Detention can also be particularly problematic for those who are in need of refugee protection. As a practical matter, it’s much more difficult for people in detention to get the kind of specialized support they need to present their asylum claims effectively. Moreover, children as well as adults may decide not to pursue claims, even very strong ones, because they don’t want to remain locked up in the meantime.

In the United States, where most people in immigration proceedings do not have court- appointed lawyers (instead, under US immigration law, they have the “privilege of being represented, at no expense to the Government”), a 2015 study published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review found that only 37 percent of all immigrants (and 55 percent of all child immigrants) were represented in immigration cases. For detained immigrants, adults as well as children, the representation rate fell to 14 percent.

In part, that disparity in the United States is because many immigration detention centers are located in rural areas that are often far from pro bono or private lawyers. For example, the immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where women and children fleeing violence in Central America were held when they began to arrive in large numbers in 2014, is “far away from public scrutiny and public access,” with “no lawyers to speak of [,] . . . no human rights groups, and no community based organizations,” Stephen Manning wrote in The Artesia Report, published that year.

The US government has opposed efforts to provide representation for unaccompanied children and other groups of particularly vulnerable people in immigration proceedings. In fact, one immigration judge went so far as to claim that even very young children could represent themselves adequately. “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience,” the judge said in a March 2016 deposition reported in the Los Angeles Times, claiming, “They get it. It's not the most efficient, but it can be done.”

But the difference between having a lawyer and being unrepresented is far from trivial: among detained immigrants, those with lawyers are more than 10 times more likely than their unrepresented counterparts to win their cases, the 2015 University of Pennsylvania Law Review study found.

Elsewhere in the world, I’ve seen that detention has similar adverse effects on children’s ability to pursue protection claims.

In Mexico, which has also detained large numbers of Central Americans in recent years, UNHCR has estimated that as many as half of all Central American children there  have strong cases for asylum—not meaning necessarily that all are refugees, but rather that their cases warrant in-depth review.

In October 2016, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that Mexico would strengthen its refugee recognition procedures and “develop alternatives to immigration detention for asylum seekers, particularly children.”

These promises were largely unfulfilled by the year’s end. Mexico’s refugee agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, COMAR), afforded international protection to just 124 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2016. That’s a considerable increase from 2015, when 57 children from these countries received protection, but still less than 1 percent of the total number of unaccompanied children Mexican authorities apprehended in each of these years.

If my interviews are any indication, Mexico’s practice of detaining most asylum seekers is an important factor that helps explain the discrepancy between the large number of unaccompanied children with plausible claims and the very small number who apply for and receive asylum.  Edgar V., a 17-year-old Honduran boy, told me that when he was apprehended in Oaxaca, Mexican immigration officials advised him to apply for asylum. But it is far more common for immigration officials to tell unaccompanied children not to bother making an asylum claim, other children reported.

Despite the advice he received, Edgar had decided not to seek asylum. “I was locked up, and they said it would be a long time before I heard. I couldn’t handle that,” he said. “At least two months, up to six months for the response. When they told me it would be six months before I heard back, I said no, I don’t want that.”  Instead, he accepted being returned to Honduras.

I heard from other unaccompanied children as well as families who made similar decisions to forego asylum claims even when they thought they would face serious risks on return. “I don’t want to return, but because of the time locked up here, I told myself it’s better to return,” another 17-year-old boy told me, after describing a series of death threats that had led him to flee. I asked him how he would stay safe. “I won’t leave the house unless I have to,” he said. “There are criminals on every corner. They walk around armed as if they were the police appointed by law.” 

To be sure, a large number of unaccompanied children would probably prefer to travel through Mexico to the United States rather than staying in Mexico. But it’s also the case that other countries in the region—Costa Rica, Panama, even Belize—are seeing increasing numbers of asylum applications from children and adults, just as Mexico is. Put another way, children and adults fleeing persecution and violence will seek safety in countries throughout the region if they are aware of their right to do so, aren’t locked up, and receive appropriate assistance to go through the process.

Using Detention to Deter Others

As Homeland Security officials did with their family separation proposal, lawmakers and policymakers often try to justify immigration detention as a deterrent to future irregular arrivals. Australian lawmakers, for example, have repeatedly stated that mandatory detention and offshore processing of maritime arrivals are necessary to “stop the boats.”

These kinds of explanations fail to hold up in several respects.

For one, a policy of deterrence means that the state is imposing a hardship on some people to change the behavior of others. But there is something contradictory at the heart of any policy calling for the detention of asylum-seekers, since it means that people seeking refuge from persecution are welcomed first by being locked up,” as Michael Kagan, a University of Nevada law professor, wrote in a 2016 Texas International Law Journal article.

For another, these policies don’t serve their stated purpose. Refugees and asylum seekers are primarily motivated by finding a place of safety and may be completely unaware of detention policies in destination countries, researchers have found.  Similarly, migrants who aren’t fleeing persecution probably choose their destinations on the basis of factors such as family or community ties and perceived educational and economic opportunities. Alice Edwards, a senior UNHCR official, observed in a 2011 article for the Equal Rights Review,There is no empirical evidence that the prospect of being detained deters irregular migration.” Similarly, the International Detention Coalition concluded in an April 2015 report that detention is largely ineffective at reducing irregular migration.

Moreover, international standards call for limits on the use of immigration detention. UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines call for immigration detention to be used sparingly, and only after a detailed, individual assessment; even then, they maintain that detention must be reasonable in the specific circumstances and proportionate to a legitimate public order, public health, or national security purpose. These guidelines explicitly note that mandatory or automatic detention is arbitrary, and therefore impermissible.

For children, the standard is clearer, stronger and even stricter: the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees compliance with the global treaty on children’s rights, says that countries should “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status.”

In short, as UNHCR noted in a 2014 report, Beyond Detention, “[n]ot only does detention not work as a deterrent, it is not a legitimate purpose for detention under international law.”

In truth, immigration detention often serves a purpose that’s largely symbolic. As the sociologists Arjen Leerkes and Dennis Broeders have observed, countries use immigration detention as a signal that they are acting to control their borders. Australia’s offshore processing system, which holds 2,000 people on remote islands as an example to others, provides a clear illustration of this function of immigration detention. As a refugee on Manus put it, “The cost of Australia’s border protection policies is a human sacrifice—us. They need us here as a symbol to stop the boats.”

 Rebranding Detention and Other Restrictions as Protection

Perhaps the most pernicious claim I hear from government officials is that detention, with its purported but unproven deterrent effect, has a protective function. Australian officials have perfected this tactic, spinning the sustained abuse of their offshore operations as a life-saving measure by claiming that offshore operations are necessary to deter smuggling by boat and thus save lives at sea. Some European lawmakers are adopting this rhetoric and also claiming, largely without evidence, that immigration detention prevents trafficking.

Countries deploy other strategies in combination with detention. Australia, the European Union, and the United States are each taking steps to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching their territories, as Bill Frelick, Ian Kysel, and Jennifer Podkul discuss in a 2016 article Journal of Migration Security on the “externalization” of migration control.

In Australia, methods include the interdiction of boats on the high seas and pushbacks of boats to Indonesian waters. A 2015 Indonesian police investigation also found that Australian authorities paid smugglers to turn boats around. Asked to respond, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to admit or deny the reports of collusion with smugglers, saying only that the Australian government had stopped the boats “by hook or by crook.”

The United States has also employed high seas interdictions and shipboard screenings. And both the European Union and the United States have pursued intensive efforts to support and encourage third countries to “contain” asylum seekers and migrants.

In the case of the United States, that’s meant pushing Mexico to apprehend, detain, and deport Central Americans in large numbers.

The EU has negotiated an arrangement that commits Turkey to accept the return of all asylum seekers who travelled through Turkey in exchange for billions of euros in aid, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, and revived negotiations for Turkish accession to the EU. In principle, the €3 billion funding is designated for projects to improve the lives of refugees as well as of host communities in Turkey. The deal also provides for the resettlement of one other Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian returned to Turkey.

Under the deal, Greece and other EU countries regard Turkey as a safe country even though Syrians often face significant hurdles in registering for temporary protection and asylum seekers of other nationalities, including Afghans and Iraqis, are ineligible even to apply. Turkey has accepted obligations under UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, but only for refugees from Europe. As Human Rights Watch and other groups have found, many Syrians, as well as Afghans, Iraqis, and others seeking international protection in Turkey cannot lawfully work, access health care, or enrol their children in school, meaning that their presence in Turkey is precarious.

In addition, individual EU member states are known to have turned asylum seekers away at their borders with other non-EU states. Hungary’s violent pushbacks of asylum seekers to the Serbian border are well-known. Poland, which receives large numbers of asylum seekers from the Russian Republic of Chechnya as well as from Tajikistan and Georgia, routinely denies them the right to seek asylum at its border with Belarus and instead summarily returns them there, Human Rights Watch found in a March report.

Characterizing such tactics as protective is both contrary to the facts and shamelessly manipulative.  It’s simply not credible to claim that immigration detention and efforts to contain migrants in third countries protect people from serious harm.

The Way Forward

Authorities should know by now that immigration detention has serious adverse consequences for mental well-being, particularly for families and unaccompanied children. It’s also the case that detention can lead unaccompanied children, as well as adults, to abandon well-founded asylum claims and accept return to possible harm. And closing off safe and legal routes for refugees makes it more likely rather than less that people will turn to smugglers in their search for safe destinations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For many adults, probation-style periodic reporting to the authorities, or being asked for a financial deposit, and other alternatives are proven means of avoiding the negative consequences of detention while providing reasonable guarantees of appearance in immigration proceedings, the International Detention Coalition has found.

When it comes to children, countries should eliminate the use of immigration detention. Some countries have already agreed in recent years to end or sharply reduce the detention of migrant children: Japan, Panama, Taiwan, and Turkey now prohibit the detention of migrant children, and half a dozen other countries have placed limits on immigration detention of children.

But more countries, Australia and the United States among them, need to recognize that locking children up as a means of migration control is unnecessary, abusive, and counterproductive.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Anti-gay rights activists stand on a rainbow flag during a protest by gay rights activists demonstrating against a proposed new law termed by the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, as "against advocating the rejection of traditional family values" in central Moscow June 11, 2013.

© 2017 Reuters

‘Lilly,’ a transgender woman from Uzbekistan, traveled to northern Russia in 2015, in search of work, hoping to earn money for her transition. In December 2016, three men attacked her on the street, forced her into a car, and gang-raped her. They also filmed the rape and extorted money from Lilly by threatening to publish the video online.

Police promptly arrested two of the perpetrators hours later. In May of this year, a court in Murmansk found the two men guilty of extortion with the use of violence and sentenced them to four years in prison. They were never charged with the rape – the rape that changed Lilly’s life irretrievably. “I only wish I could exchange my life for another,” Lilly told me. But the court did recognize that the men targeted Lilly because of “hate” – hatred for her gender identity – a rare breakthrough in Russia.

Hate attacks in 2010-2016 marked on Russia’s map – red stands for killing; green stands for bodily harm.

© 2017 “Civic Assistance” Committee (CAC)


It’s significant that hostility towards LGBT people was acknowledged as a motivating factor precisely because hate crimes are a serious issue in Russia, and something that the United Nations experts who monitor Russia’s compliance with the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will examine in Geneva this week. It is a difficult task because Russian authorities don’t compile hate crime data and have not been contributing to the OSCE’s statistics on hate crimes, published annually by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Nevertheless, independent monitors flag that the most frequent victims of hate attacks in Russia are non-Slavs, religious minorities, and LGBT people.

In Moscow, Anastasia Denisova, of Russia’s leading migrant support group Civic Assistance Committee, runs the project “hatecrimes.ru,” which provides legal assistance to victims and, in the absence of official statistics, maps out hate crimes on an interactive map of Russia with the use of countrywide findings by SOVA-Center, an independent think tank. She told me that, “in most cases when non-ethnic Russians are attacked, police begin by treating the victim as the guilty party and our lawyers have to work hard to make them realize who is the victim and who is the aggressor. Also, if a victim of a hate crime was also robbed, for instance, the authorities tend to launch a case on robbery, ignoring the hate motive.”

Russia should ensure that authorities systematically recognize hate motives in a crime as an aggravating circumstance and launch mandatory training programs for law enforcement officials and judiciary. The government should also list hate crimes as a separate category in criminal statistics to give the public a clear picture of the issue’s scope and resume its reporting on hate crimes to the OSCE as part of contributing to international efforts aimed at resolving the problem.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The four neighborhoods of Pajok town, in Ayaci county (formerly Magwi county), in the state formerly known as Eastern Equatoria. The town was attacked by government troops on April 3, 2017.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Key locations in Kajo Keji county where government forces’ attacks since June 2016 have involved serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the neighboring regions of Kajo Keji and Magwi government counterinsurgency operations have displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians since July 2016.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The regions of South Sudan formerly known as Western Bahr el-Ghazal, Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria states have been the most severely impacted by government counterinsurgency operations since late 2015.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Since they destroyed [the Calais camp] last year, there is no place to sleep or eat. It’s like living in hell.

—Yeakob S., 29-year-old Ethiopian man, Calais, June 30, 2017

[T]he women and the men who first were coming from Syria, today are coming from Eritrea, or from many other countries, and who are fighting for freedom, must be welcomed in Europe, and especially in France.

—President Emmanuel Macron, Trieste, Italy, July 13, 2017

Nine months after French authorities closed the large migrant camp known as the “Jungle,” on the edge of Calais, between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants are living on the streets and in wooded areas in and around the northern French city.

Based on interviews with more than 60 asylum seekers and migrants in and around Calais and Dunkerque, and with two dozen aid workers working in the area, this report documents police abuse of asylum seekers and migrants, their disruption of humanitarian assistance, and their harassment of aid workers—behavior that appears to be at least partly driven by a desire to keep down migrant numbers.

Human Rights Watch finds that police in Calais, particularly the riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, 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.

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. International standards provide that police should only use force when it is unavoidable, and then only with restraint, in proportion to the circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

Authorities have turned a blind eye to widespread reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and other migrants. Vincent Berton, the deputy prefect for Calais, strongly rejected reports that police used pepper spray and other force indiscriminately and disproportionately. “These are allegations, individuals’ declarations, that are not based on fact,” he told Human Rights Watch.

In March 2017, local authorities barred humanitarian groups from distributing food, water, blankets, and clothing to asylum seekers and migrants. A court suspended those orders on March 22, finding that they amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) has also criticized these and other measures taken by local authorities, concluding that they contribute to “inhuman living conditions” for asylum seekers and migrants in Calais.

As of the end of June, authorities were allowing a single two-hour humanitarian distribution each day, in an industrial area near the former migrant camp. In addition, a local priest permitted a lunchtime distribution to take place on church grounds. Police regularly disrupted other distributions of humanitarian assistance. Aid workers described one occasion when gendarmes bearing rifles surrounded them, and multiple occasions where riot police otherwise forcibly blocked migrants’ access to aid workers and knocked food out of the workers’ hands when they attempted to give food to migrants.

Aid workers have begun to photograph or film these acts by police, as they are allowed to do under French law. In response, they say police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or examining the contents without permission.

Aid workers also say that police regularly subject them to document checks—sometimes two or more in the space of several hours. Identity checks are lawful in France but are open to abuse by police. In Calais, identity checks of aid workers have delayed humanitarian distributions. They also prevent aid workers from observing how police treat migrants when they disperse people after distributions.

President Emmanuel Macron has committed to take a humane approach to refugees and asylum seekers. On July 12, his government announced initiatives that would improve access to asylum procedures and provide additional housing and other support for asylum seekers and for unaccompanied children. These welcome steps stand in sharp contrast to the treatment asylum seekers and other migrants are currently experiencing in Calais.

To live up to these commitments and France’s international obligations, local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to adhere to international standards on the use of force and to refrain from conduct that interferes with the delivery of humanitarian assistance, subject to appropriate disciplinary action for abuse of authority or other misconduct.

The Ministry of the Interior should remove obstacles that impede access to refugee protection, including by either establishing an asylum office in Calais or by facilitating applications in existing offices by those who wish to make them. It should also work with appropriate agencies and humanitarian groups to provide access to accommodation for all asylum applicants, including emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.

Finally, local and national authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have access to child protection services, including shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.

Recommendations

To the French Government

  • Municipal and departmental authorities and the Ministry of the Interior should immediately and unequivocally direct riot police and other police forces not to use pepper spray or other force on migrants who are asleep, or in other circumstances where use of force is disproportionate to a legitimate objective.
  • Calais municipal authorities should immediately comply with the June court order directing the municipality to establish water distribution points, and toilets and showers, and to take other steps to protect the rights of asylum seekers and migrants.
  • The Ministry of the Interior should establish an office (guichet unique) in Calais to allow those who wish to seek asylum to do so, or should facilitate their transport elsewhere in France to enable them to submit applications at an existing asylum office.
  • The French government should comply with its obligations under the European Union (EU) reception directive and as soon as possible provide accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum. The government should also work with humanitarian and nongovernmental groups to help arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais. Such accommodation need not be in northern France.
  • Local and national authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are promptly identified, informed of their right to seek asylum in France and receive the necessary legal support to do so, and have access to child protection shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.
  • As the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency recommends, police should provide a written record, or stop form, for every document check to encourage well-grounded stops and greater accountability. Stop forms should at a minimum include the name and age of the person being stopped, the legal grounds for the stop, the outcome, and the name and unit of the police officer(s) who conducted the stop.

Methodology

Human Rights Watch interviewed 61 asylum seekers and migrants, including three women and one girl, in and around Calais and Dunkerque at the end of June and beginning of July 2017. Thirty-one identified themselves as children under the age of 18.

The total comprised eighteen from Eritrea, sixteen from Afghanistan, eleven who described themselves as Ethiopian and a further nine who specified that they were Oromo (Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group), five Iraqi Kurds, and two from Pakistan.

In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed two dozen aid workers who distribute food, provide medical or legal services, or offer information and other support to asylum seekers and migrants in the departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, and we met with the deputy prefect for Calais and with other local authorities, as well as with the directorate of asylum of the Ministry of the Interior in Paris.

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted most interviews in English or French, and in some cases in German or Italian. We explained to all interviewees the nature and purpose of our research, that the interviews were voluntary and confidential, and that they would receive no personal service or benefit for speaking to us, and we obtained verbal consent from each interviewee.

All names of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees used in this report are pseudonyms. We have also withheld the names and other identifying information of aid workers who requested that we not publish this information.

In line with international standards, the term “child” refers to a person under the age of 18.[1] As the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international authorities do, we use the term “unaccompanied children” in this report to refer to children “who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.”[2] “Separated children” are those who are “separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary care-giver, but not necessarily from other relatives,”[3] meaning that they may be accompanied by other adult family members.

I. Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Calais

Until the end of October 2016, a sprawling, squalid shantytown on the edge of Calais, known colloquially as “the Jungle,” held between 6,000 and 10,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, including many unaccompanied children. Many had fled persecution or violence in their home countries. All had endured significant hardship on their journeys to Europe and on to northern France. The location of the camp near Calais reflected a desire by many of those living there to continue their journey on to the United Kingdom.

City authorities considered the camp an eyesore and regarded the men, women, and children staying there as nuisances. Aid workers, United Nations officials, and casual visitors were shocked by the deprivation they saw there. In a larger sense, the camp was a symbol of Europe’s shame, a visible reminder of the European Union’s failure to find a humane, fair, and coordinated approach to migration and to refugee flows.

In October 2016, the camp was demolished and its residents relocated to emergency shelters across France. National and local authorities hoped that its closure would mark a new chapter for the city and the region, and possibly for France’s treatment of refugees.[4]

Many of the asylum seekers and migrants who left the camp shared those hopes. As relocations began, groups of camp residents packed their bags and assembled with varying degrees of resignation, trepidation, optimism, and ebullience. Some waved French flags. By the end of the week, over 5,000 children and adults had been relocated, a significant achievement. The prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio, declared, “Our mission is accomplished.”[5]

Nevertheless, it was obvious even then that her statement was premature. Aid groups had warned that authorities were systematically undercounting unaccompanied children in the weeks leading up to the camp’s closure, raising the risk that they would be unprepared for the numbers that would need alternative accommodation.[6] At least 100 unaccompanied children and hundreds of adults were still waiting in line to be relocated when authorities announced that registration had ended, meaning that they spent another night in the camp.[7]

The new centers French authorities set up for unaccompanied children were not part of the regular child protection service, where unaccompanied migrant children are usually placed. These facilities, known as Reception and Orientation Centers for Unaccompanied Minors (Centres d’accueil et d’orientation pour mineurs isolés, CAOMI), were set up at short notice, with staff hired rapidly.

When Human Rights Watch interviewed unaccompanied children and staff at reception centers in France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions, we found that while some centers were run by professional staff with experience in refugee support, others were managed by organizations and individuals without such experience. Many centers also lacked regular access to translators, making it impossible for some children to communicate with staff.[8]

The centers were temporary, intended to be in operation for only a few months, since
French authorities assumed the United Kingdom would accept a significant number of unaccompanied children from Calais. As a result, these “provisional” centers did not immediately give unaccompanied children information about the possibility of claiming asylum in France and did not give them access to French asylum procedures for several months.
[9]

As well as the expectation that unaccompanied children with family ties to the UK would be accepted for transfer, French authorities hoped that their British counterparts would make broad use of a UK humanitarian provision enacted in 2016 which covered unaccompanied children with no such ties. When UK lawmakers passed the measure, known as the “Dubs amendment,” they spoke of accepting thousands of children from across Europe. In February, however, the Home Office said that it would admit no more than 350 children under the provision.[10] In April, British authorities said the UK would accept an additional 130 children under the Dubs amendment.[11]

The Home Office confirmed in written answers to the House of Commons that the UK had taken 200 children from Calais in 2016 under the Dubs amendment and, as of mid-July, had not accepted a single child for transfer under the provision in 2017.[12]

Although the UK accepted some 300 children with family members in Britain, under an EU regulation known as the “Dublin III” framework, Human Rights Watch and other groups found that some children with aunts, uncles, or grandparents in the UK were not approved for transfer even though they appeared to meet the regulation’s requirements. The Home Office did not explain the basis for these decisions, and it was not clear under what process, if any, children could seek review.[13]

Unaccompanied children had already begun to leave the temporary reception centers on their own in December, when Human Rights Watch visited them. By March, when the last of the centers closed, over 700 unaccompanied children had abandoned them, according to official records viewed by Human Rights Watch.

Many of these unaccompanied children initially made their way to Paris, where they and other children and adults slept on the roadside, under bridges, and along the riverbank of the Porte de La Chapelle area of the city, in the vicinity of a new aid center for migrants that had reached capacity shortly after it opened.[14]

Nine months after the Calais camp’s closure, between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants are staying on the streets and in wooded areas in and around Calais, according to humanitarian workers. It is not clear how many are unaccompanied children, but aid workers estimated that the number was at least 50 and as high as 200 or more, based on their observations during food distributions.[15] Vincent Berton, the deputy prefect for Calais, told Human Rights Watch, “There are many young children, 14 or 15 years old, especially Eritreans.”[16]

An additional 300 to 400 asylum seekers and migrants stay in informal camps near Dunkerque, aid workers told Human Rights Watch. That number includes about a dozen children who are with their families, who tend to stay in these and in smaller camps scattered elsewhere in the departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais instead of in Calais itself.[17]

These asylum seekers and migrants told Human Rights Watch they live in very difficult circumstances, in some cases for several months or more. “People here in Calais are in very, very bad conditions,” said Yeakob S., a 29-year-old Ethiopian man.

He added, “Since they destroyed [the Calais camp] last year, there is no place to sleep or eat. It’s like living in hell.”[18] Kuma N., a 16-year-old boy who, like others from his ethnic group, referred to himself as Oromo instead of Ethiopian, told us, “I’ve been here for 14 months. I sleep outside. I’m very sick.”[19] Biniam T., a 17-year-old from Ethiopia, said, “I risked my life for freedom. I didn’t expect such treatment in Europe.”[20]

The French ombudsman observed on June 14, after visiting Calais, that the children and adults in and around the city were “in a state of physical and mental exhaustion.”[21] Aster N., a 17-year-old girl from Ethiopia, said:

If our country were at peace, no one would select this life. Who would want to live like this? Who would choose this situation? If we and our families were safe in our countries, why would we come here?[22]

Aid workers, including staff and volunteers with the nongovernmental organizations L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, and Utopia 56, have regularly distributed food, water, sleeping bags and clothing, medication, and other essentials to asylum seekers and migrants in these areas. In Dunkerque and other areas of the department of Nord, aid groups have been able to carry out such distributions unhindered.

In and around Calais, however, riot police and the gendarmerie frequently halted most distributions until 12 humanitarian groups brought a successful legal challenge to these practices in early 2017.[23]

The Lille administrative tribunal issued a ruling on March 22 finding that authorities had subjected migrants to inhuman and degrading treatment by preventing food distributions.[24] In response to the rulings, the prefecture allowed a single distribution per day, initially for one hour, and sometimes for up to 90 minutes.[25] On June 17, the day after aid groups filed a second court challenge, the prefecture extended food distributions to two hours each day.[26]

The administrative tribunal’s ruling in the second case, issued on June 26, also directed authorities to provide migrants with access to drinking water, toilets, and facilities for showering and washing clothes, giving authorities 10 days to implement the ruling.[27] On July 6, at the end of the 10-day period, the prefect of Pas-de-Calais announced that the state had appealed the tribunal’s ruling.[28]

The decision to appeal the ruling is consistent with local authorities’ frequently expressed desire to avoid re-establishing a migrant camp on the city’s fringes. In court proceedings and in media statements, municipal authorities have regularly stated that humanitarian services for migrants create an implication of permanence (un point de fixation) and attract more migrants to the region.[29] During a June 23 visit to Calais, the French minister of the interior, Gérard Collomb, echoed these sentiments.[30]

At the same time, President Emmanuel Macron has committed to take a humane approach to refugees, promising to reform an asylum system that he has described as “completely swamped” and that “does not permit humane and just consideration of requests for protection.”[31] Similarly, ahead of his election in May 2017, his campaign platform spoke of the need for France to take “its fair share in the reception of refugees.”[32]

On July 12, Macron’s government announced initiatives that would reduce delays in access to asylum procedures, increase accommodation for asylum seekers, augment reception facilities and services for unaccompanied children, and speed up refugee resettlement from countries near conflict zones.[33] Referring to these initiatives, Macron stated:

I want to do this in a combined spirit of humanity, intellectual rigor, and effectiveness in practice. In the spirit of humanity because the women and the men who first were coming from Syria, today are coming from Eritrea, or from many other countries, and who are fighting for freedom, must be welcomed in Europe, and especially in France. Therefore we will obviously do our part in this fight.[34]

These undertakings are largely welcome, but they sit uneasily with the statements of the minister of the interior. In particular, it is difficult to reconcile Macron’s stated commitment to humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers with authorities’ opposition to the provision of drinking water and other basic needs to asylum seekers and migrants in Calais.

II. Police Abuse of Asylum Seekers and Migrants

Nearly every asylum seeker and migrant whom Human Rights Watch interviewed reported frequent use of pepper spray by police—usually members of the riot police—in circumstances that indicate the use of force was excessive and disproportionate, in violation of international standards.

The frequent and abusive use of pepper spray appears, in the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, to serve no purpose other than to harass migrants, presumably to encourage them to leave Calais. Such police behavior is a violation of the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment under human rights law.

The accounts suggest that police use pepper spray most frequently at night, on asylum seekers and migrants who are asleep or whom they have just woken up. Pepper spray, a chemical agent designed to subdue people who are behaving violently, causes temporary blindness, severe eye pain, and respiratory difficulties—generally for between 30 and 40 minutes. Food and water that have been sprayed cannot be consumed, and sleeping bags and clothing must be washed before they can be reused.

In a typical account, Nebay T., a 17-year-old boy from Eritrea, told Human Rights Watch:

The spraying happens nearly every night. The police come up to us while we are sleeping and spray us. They spray all over our face, our eyes.[35]

Moti W., a 17-year-old Oromo boy, said:

This morning, I was sleeping under the bridge. The police came. They sprayed all over our face, hair, eyes, clothes, sleeping bag, food. Many people were sleeping then. The police sprayed everything.[36]

Abel G., a 16-year-old Eritrean boy, stated, “If you are sleeping, they just point it down
at you.”
[37]

In most cases, according to asylum seekers and refugees, police employ pepper spray without any warning. “They didn’t say anything, only sprayed,” an Afghan man, Mirwas A., said.[38] “I was sprayed in the face,” another Afghan man, Yahya R., told us.[39]

In some instances, police appear to issue perfunctory warnings before spraying asylum seekers and migrants. Asked if police say anything before they spray, Abel G., the 16-year-old Eritrean boy, told us, “Sometimes. They say, ‘Allez, allez.’ They speak French. We don’t know what else they are saying.”[40] In another case, Wahid N. told us that several days before we spoke, an officer had jostled him with a boot to wake him up before spraying him in the face early in the morning.[41] In a third account, Eba J., a 15-year-old Oromo boy, said, “They wake us up. ‘Allez, allez,’ they say. But where can I go? After that, they come with spray.”[42]

In addition, we heard reports of police spraying asylum seekers and migrants who are walking along the road in isolated areas. For example, Layla A., an 18-year-old woman interviewed at the beginning of July, told Human Rights Watch:

I was walking on the road two days ago. The police came by and used spray. This was at night, a little after 8:00 p.m., when they passed by the distribution point in their cars. They opened the window and sprayed.[43]

In another such account, 16-year-old Abel G. reported, “If they get you on the street somewhere, they spray you from the vehicle as they drive by.” He told Human Rights Watch police had sprayed him with pepper spray in this way the day before we spoke to him at the end of June. He identified them as riot police by the patches on their uniforms and the emblem on the vehicle.[44] In a third account, Biniam T., a 17-year-old boy from Ethiopia, described being sprayed with pepper spray by riot police one week earlier:

It was the daytime, and they came in a van. They sprayed us from the van. They didn’t say anything; they just sprayed.[45]

In some instances, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as aid workers, also reported that police used pepper spray when they broke up food distributions, particularly those that occur late at night. Saare Y., a 16-year-old Eritrean boy, said:

Last night after dinner, the police came. ‘Go, go, go,’ they said. One of them caught me. He held onto my left arm, and another police officer came up to me and sprayed me in the eyes. The spray also went into my nose.[46]

We heard similar accounts from other boys who said that police had sprayed them in the eyes during or immediately after food distributions.[47] A humanitarian worker described one such instance that he and a second worker witnessed at a late-night food distribution at the end of June. “I saw two policemen spray [a boy] in the eyes. He took a few steps and then dropped to the ground, on his knees.” The two aid workers retrieved eyedrops from the distribution van, and police allowed them to treat the boy. “Then the police made him move on when he could walk,” the humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch.[48]

Another boy from Eritrea, Birhan G., age 16, described his treatment by police at a late-night food distribution two days earlier:

It was about midnight. I came to get food. The police were there. They told the group, ‘You don’t give out food.’ We are hungry. We are thirsty. Then the police sprayed us, and we ran. We fell down as we ran into the woods, and the police laughed at us.[49]

Aid workers told us they regularly hear similar accounts. “Yesterday I saw a child who told me police sprayed him in the face. He was having problems with his eyes. Another child who also said he was sprayed in the face had an allergic reaction to the spray,” said Arthur Thomas, a youth protection coordinator with Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants.[50] A health worker told Human Rights Watch that the group she works with regularly sees injuries linked to the use of pepper spray.[51] In our visits to food distribution sites at the end of June, we saw children with bandages under their eyes; when we asked why, they told us police had sprayed them in the face the previous night.

Describing the feeling of being exposed to pepper spray, 16-year-old Abel G. said, “You cry. You feel very hot in your face. It closes up your throat. You can’t breathe.”[52]

Others who had been sprayed gave similar descriptions. “My face is burning. It feels like I’m on fire,” Meiga T., a 16-year-old Oromo boy, told us.[53] Another Oromo boy, Demiksa N., age 15, said:

After the spray, you’re confused. It’s like you don’t know anything; you can’t think. You don’t see anything, you don’t remember anything. You feel like it might be better to kill yourself.[54]

A 1999 North Carolina Medical Journal study that continues to be a reference point for research on the effects of pepper spray, or oleoresin capsicum, found that it can cause eye burns and abrasions, asthma attacks, acute high blood pressure, chest pains, and loss of consciousness, adverse effects severe enough to warrant hospitalization.[55] The use of pepper spray in detention settings is known to result in increased injuries if those who are sprayed cannot remove it thoroughly within an appropriate period of time.[56]

When British lawmakers requested expert evidence on the short- and long-term effects of pepper spray on children’s health and well-being, they heard that “research on the exposure to children is uncommon, possibly because no expert believes these agents would ever be used on children.”[57] A 2007 review of research on the health effects of pepper spray noted that “[n]ot one single study examined recommended pepper spray as safe for use on children.”[58]

Police use of pepper spray in Calais is so common that many asylum seekers and migrants had difficulty recalling precisely how many times they had been sprayed. “This happens almost every day,” 16-year-old Meiga T. reported.[59] “I have been sprayed so many times,” Hakim T., an 18-year-old Ethiopian man, told us, adding that police had used pepper spray on him the night before we spoke. “Whenever the police find us on the road or in any open area, they spray us,” he said.[60] “This is normal for us. It’s part of our life,” Biniam T., a 17-year-old Ethiopian boy, said matter-of-factly.[61]

Arthur Thomas, the youth protection coordinator with Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants, told us that he tried to convince a child who had been sprayed in the face to make a report:

He’s not interested. He doesn’t perceive what happened as something that authorities will change. For him it’s just normal—this is something that happens every day.[62]

Police also frequently spray sleeping bags, blankets, and extra clothing, asylum seekers and migrants reported. Describing his experience the previous week when he awoke to find police using pepper spray on him, Jalil M., an Afghan man, said, “The police sprayed all over everything, over all of our blankets and clothing.”[63]

In addition, police regularly confiscate sleeping bags and other items after asylum seekers and migrants have fled the immediate area to avoid being sprayed. Hassan E., a 17-year-old Ethiopian boy who had received blankets from an aid group earlier in the week, told us:

Two nights ago, I was sleeping. The police came. They took everything—all our blankets and sleeping bags.[64]

Wako L., a 15-year-old Oromo boy, said, “This morning the police came, so I have no sleeping bag. The police took it. They sprayed it.”[65]

The accounts we heard suggest that the use of pepper spray on people, bedding, and clothing is routine. Seventeen-year-old Biniam T. said:

If they catch us when we are sleeping, they will spray us and take all
of our stuff. Every two or three days they do this. They’ll come and
take our blankets.
[66]

Saare L., a 16-year-old Ethiopian boy who described being sprayed in the eyes, said, “This was not the first time this happened. It happens all the time.”[67] Hiwa S., a 21-year-old Kurdish man, said, “Every day, they take our sleeping bags, blankets, water.”[68] In a similar account, Negasu M., a 14-year-old Oromo boy, told Human Rights Watch, “When the police find me, they spray me. They take my blanket. Sometimes they take my shoes. Sometimes they take my clothes…I try to change the place where I sleep.”[69]

Aid workers also told us they regularly hear such reports from migrants. “I’ve had guys tell me many times that they were sprayed by police. One still had red in his eyes when I saw him. This is a regular thing,” a law student volunteering with L’Auberge des Migrants said, adding: “One guy came to the distribution without shoes or a jacket. A colleague asked him what happened. He told her, ‘The police took my shoes, took my jacket.’”[70]

Asylum seekers and migrants frequently told Human Rights Watch that police were careful to avoid the use of pepper spray in the presence of aid workers. “I wish you could be here in the night, when we are sleeping,” Gebre M., 16, said.[71] When we spoke to another boy at a midnight distribution, 17-year-old Kojo D., he told us, “As soon as you leave, the police will come and spray.”[72]

In mid-July, however, we heard from some aid workers that they had also been sprayed by police. One humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch:

We’re now getting situations of volunteers being pepper-sprayed. I got pepper-sprayed two days ago…. I was only distributing water.

He explained that he and a colleague were at the Rue des Verrotières distribution site at about 1:00 a.m. on July 16. “We stopped because of a guy with a broken leg, on crutches. He just wanted some water,” the humanitarian worker said.[73] His colleague confirmed this account, adding that a member of the riot police sprayed the two of them along with the group of migrants to whom they were distributing water. The officer sprayed them “from eye level downward,” she said, from a distance of about one meter.[74]

We also heard numerous reports that police on occasion intentionally pepper spray food and water. Nasim Z., an Afghan man, told Human Rights Watch that police had intentionally sprayed his food, so that he went hungry that night.[75] Describing a similar instance, a humanitarian worker with Utopia 56 said she had given two water tanks to a group of men and boys, who told her the next day that police had sprayed the water in the containers.[76] Sarah Arrom, also with the humanitarian organization Utopia 56, reported that she has heard numerous such accounts.[77]

Such practices are profoundly demeaning and make life extremely uncomfortable for migrants and asylum seekers. “The whole night I didn’t sleep. It was very cold. We didn’t have any blankets. They took everything,” 17-year-old Biniam T. said.[78] “Yesterday, we had no dinner. There was food coming at midnight,” Hassan E., also 17, said, referring to a late-night distribution by an aid group. “The police said, ‘No dinner.’”[79]

Most asylum seekers and migrants, as well as the aid workers we spoke to, believed that the sole purpose of these policing practices is to drive migrants and asylum seekers away. “The police take all our blankets so we can’t stay in the forest,” Hakim T., 18, said.[80]

In addition to using pepper spray, police, according to some asylum seekers and migrants, have on occasion struck them with batons or kicked them when ordering them to leave food distribution sites or other locations. For example, Abel G., a 16-year-old boy from Eritrea, told us:

A few days ago, we came to this place [where aid workers were distributing food to migrants]. The police said, “No more food.” One police came up to me and hit me with his baton. He didn’t swing it; it was like he didn’t want to be seen, so he hit me like he was punching. It hit me here, in the ribs. It hurt so much.[81]

Aid workers said that asylum seekers and migrants had told them similar accounts. In one incident at the beginning of June, Sarah Arrom, of Utopia 56, said:

We were standing at the food distribution on Rue des Verrotières, and we saw an Eritrean boy, 16, riding his bike. His face was cut, and we asked him what happened. He explained that a police car had stopped and asked him for his papers. Then they pushed him, and he fell on the ground. He was bleeding a lot when we saw him.[82]

In addition, humanitarian workers reported that they occasionally witnessed police threaten asylum seekers and migrants. For example, a law student volunteering with L’Auberge des Migrants told us that on May 28, when she was in the large field observing the evening food distribution:

I saw a police officer look around and heard him say, “What are all these sons of a bitch…” I wrote that down, and when I looked up and saw him with his baton raised at a refugee. He told the refugee, “Go on, go into the woods or I’ll smash your mouth.”[83]

Children and adults told us that the treatment they received from police was taking an emotional toll. “Now my head is confused,” said Waysira L, a 16-year-old Oromo boy. “I’ve only been here two months. Every day, the police chase us. They use spray. They kick us. This is our life every day.”[84] Another Oromo boy, Gudina W., also 16, said:

When I sleep tonight, I will see the police. I’ll wake up and realize I have
been dreaming that the police are coming to hit me. This is what I see in
my dreams.
[85]

“This is harassment, and at some point it can break your mind. It makes you feel like an animal,” said Sarah Arrom of Utopia 56.[86]

Humanitarian groups in Calais have raised concerns about excessive use of force by French police, particularly the riot police, for several years. In May 2015, for instance, members of the local group Calais Migrant Solidarity posted a video filmed that month that appeared to show riot police pushing, kicking, and beating migrants who tried to hide in trucks while they seemed to pose no threat, and spraying pepper spray in their direction even as the migrants were leaving the road.[87]

Similarly, in late 2014, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of migrants who described routine abuses by police when they tried to hide in trucks or as they walked in town. Twenty-one migrants, including two children, said police had used pepper spray on them; nineteen described other acts of police violence, including beatings. Authorities denied these accounts.[88]

International standards call for police to use non-violent means “as far as possible” before resorting to the use of force. If the use of force is unavoidable, its use should be restrained and in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective law enforcement officials seek to achieve.[89] Similarly, France’s Code of Ethics of the Police and Gendarmerie provides, “Police and gendarmerie personnel use force within the framework established by the law, only when it is necessary, and in a manner proportionate to the purpose to be reached, or to the gravity of the threat, depending on the situation.”[90]

The numerous, consistent accounts Human Rights Watch received, together with reports from the French ombudsman and other groups,[91] strongly suggest that the riot police and other police forces are not complying with international and national standards. The use of pepper spray is a form of force, and its use on children and adults who are asleep is disproportionate and violates the international prohibition on ill-treatment. The same is true of the use of pepper spray on children and adults who are walking along roads or who otherwise do not pose a threat to law enforcement officials or to others.

The reported destruction or confiscation of blankets, sleeping bags, and other personal property of migrants appears to lack any legal basis. The consistent, detailed accounts of such acts suggest that riot police and members of other police forces have engaged in arbitrary conduct that may well constitute crimes.

Vincent Berton, the deputy prefect for Calais, vehemently rejected reports that police used pepper spray and other force indiscriminately and disproportionately. He told Human Rights Watch:

These are allegations, individuals’ declarations, that are not based on fact. They are slanderous…. The police are the administrative body that is the most controlled, and must comply with very strict codes and rules of ethics.

Asked specifically whether police in Calais had used pepper spray on sleeping migrants, he replied, “I have never seen or heard that. I did not give such orders. For me, this doesn’t exist.” However, he added, “If tear gas or spray was used gratuitously, it would be completely reprehensible and would violate the rules governing the use of force.”[92]

III. Police Disruption of Humanitarian Assistance

In addition to confiscating or destroying food, water, and blankets, migrants and aid workers said that police have regularly prevented the distribution of humanitarian assistance, without apparent legal basis. Such actions have left asylum seekers and migrants without basic necessities.

As of the end of June, authorities were generally allowing a single two-hour evening distribution per day but often arbitrarily halted other distributions. Earlier in 2017, local authorities had attempted to end food distributions altogether, issuing orders in February and March barring humanitarian groups from conducting such activities. The Lille administrative tribunal suspended these orders on March 22, finding that:

[T]he Mayor of Calais infringed in a grave and manifestly illegal manner on freedom of movement, on freedom of association and, by obstructing the fulfilment of migrants’ basic and vital needs, on their right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.[93]

In response to this court decision, local authorities began to allow food distributions but limited them to one hour, after which, aid workers said, police on occasion moved aggressively to halt the distributions. The basis for limiting distributions to one hour was unclear: La Voix du Nord, a local newspaper, quoted some police as saying the order came from the minister of the interior; others said that the question was a “delicate” one.[94]

An aid worker described the police response to a distribution she took part in with two other aid workers outside the Calais train station in May. “The gendarmerie surrounded us, seven of them. They surrounded the car with rifles and didn’t allow us to leave,” she told Human Rights Watch. The gendarmes told the three aid workers that they were not allowed to distribute food. “We were stopped for about an hour,” she said, and then told to leave.[95]

In early June, police appeared to be following new orders. “Police told us that under new instructions from the subprefecture, beginning on June 1, all food distributions in Calais would be forbidden, except between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. at the Rue des Verrotières,” Loan Torondel, of L’Auberge des Migrants, told us, referring to a large field in an industrial area of Calais not far from the site of the large migrant camp demolished in October 2016. “We can’t contest this decision because there’s no document. The police say it’s the deputy prefect’s decision, but it’s difficult to prove that without anything in writing.”[96] When Human Rights Watch asked the deputy prefect about these reports, he replied:

We have never banned distributions of water or food. The State is
accused by associations, so it is defending itself. These allegations
seem inaccurate.
[97]

Nevertheless, a third humanitarian worker told Human Rights that police prevented a food distribution in early June:

They [the police] got physical with us. They pushed me around at one point…. A CRS agent told me I was on private land. They said I wasn’t allowed to be there. We were parked on the road at that point, and we were standing in the road, so that was not true. I stayed where I was, and the officer tried to rip the food out of my hand. Then more CRS agents came over and dragged me to the other side of a line they’d made. A lot of food was lost in the process. They didn’t let us leave the area. They…surrounded us and physically prevented us from leaving the space. This lasted for a few hours.

The humanitarian worker said that even though it was a very hot day, they were not allowed to give out water. “The CRS agents we spoke to weren’t sure. They went to go speak to their supervisor. That supervisor spoke to his supervisor. Finally they told us the order came down from the police chief—no, no water.”[98]

This was not an isolated incident. The same humanitarian worker described similar police responses to other food distributions in which he participated in early June:

Sometimes I would be handing out boxes, and CRS would come up and say it wasn’t allowed. Sometimes we would walk around them and keep handing out the food. We had food knocked out of our hands. Sometimes CRS would take the food off the table we had set up to distribute it.[99]

Riot police sometimes also closed the doors of the vans used for delivery of food and other assistance, shutting aid workers inside, other humanitarian workers told us.[100]

The humanitarian worker who reported that riot police had dragged him said:

One of my team that day had a printout of the French law against assisting migrants and refugees. The law provides for exceptions if the assistance is necessary for migrants’ physical well-being. We’re not asking for anything for the food we give. We’re not providing them with transportation anywhere. We’re not calling for them to have the legal right to stay in the country. We explained the law. The police didn’t respond.[101]

A humanitarian worker with Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch, “They [the police] are always telling migrants to leave. Always. They don’t know the law. They always say that what we do is illegal.” She described an example on June 17 in which authorities again halted a late-night food distribution that was taking place in a large field off the Rue des Verrotières, situated in an industrial area of Calais not far from the site of the large migrant camp demolished in October 2016. “There’s a big new fence. They put [all the migrants] on the other side of the fence. One migrant asked me to give him food.” Riot police had ordered the group to close the van used for food distributions. “The food was out, on a rock; it wasn’t in the van. I took it and started to walk toward the migrants. CRS came in front of me and stopped me. He said, ‘No, no, no. I told you to stop.’ But there is nothing in the law that stops distribution of food.”[102]

On June 26, another order by the Lille administrative tribunal directed authorities in Calais to take steps within 10 days to improve conditions for migrants, including by establishing distribution points for water, toilet and washing facilities.[103] Municipal authorities immediately announced that they would appeal the decision and stated that they would not comply with it in the meantime—even though the appeal would not automatically stay the court’s order, meaning that they are legally obligated to follow it until the appeal is decided. Municipal authorities and the Ministry of the Interior filed the appeal on July 6, the day the order took effect.

The June order did not address food distribution, but a municipal official came to the Rue des Verrotières evening distribution the same day and announced that, going forward, the time period would be extended to two hours.[104] Thereafter, aid workers told us that Rue des Verrotières evening distributions were usually permitted between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.

Human Rights Watch researchers observed that police allowed the evening distributions on June 28, 29, and 30 to go forward during these hours. Police ended distributions on June 28 and 29 shortly after 8:00 p.m. (Aid workers ended the June 30 distribution just before 8:00 p.m., after a fight broke out between two migrants.)

At the same time, police continued to halt distributions taking place later in the evening. Describing a June 27 night-time distribution, a humanitarian worker reported that shortly after he and his colleagues began to distribute food, “the CRS came in eight or nine vans. They told us to stop. The CRS officers walked in a big line, holding their batons in their hands. Some had riot shields. They checked all the volunteers’ IDs, twice.” As the police line advanced, migrants retreated across the field and into nearby woods.[105] Human Rights Watch researchers observed two night-time distributions that police interrupted in the same way on June 29.

Other aid workers, asylum seekers, and migrants said that this was the usual police response to distributions other than the one held at 6:00 p.m. off the Rue des Verrotières. Eba J, a 15-year-old Oromo boy, told us:

The police come when the food is being handed out…. They are saying, ‘Don’t eat.’ They say, ‘Go, go, go.’ Even if I don’t get anything to eat, the police don’t care. They say, ‘Go, go, go.’ After that, they come with spray.[106]

French law provides that “any person who directly or indirectly facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, movement, or irregular stay of a foreigner in France will be punished by imprisonment of five years and a fine of €30,000.”[107] Nevertheless, there are several exceptions to this provision, including for individuals or associations that provide free legal assistance, food, shelter, or other forms of assistance “aimed at preserving [migrants’] dignity or physical integrity.”[108]

A 2013 EU directive on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers requires EU member states to provide “material reception conditions to ensure a standard of living adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence.”[109] Moreover, as the Lille administrative tribunal noted in its March order, the denial of food, water, and other basic necessities violates the prohibition on degrading treatment.[110]

IV. Police Harassment of Aid Workers

In addition to police claiming, incorrectly, that aid workers are breaking French law by distributing food aid and other humanitarian assistance, aid workers say they are regularly subject to document checks, a procedure that is not unlawful but is open to abuse.

When aid workers photograph or film police, as they are permitted to do under French law, they said police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or looking through the contents without permission. On occasion, police have also destroyed food while searching vans or halting distributions.

Some of these actions, such as temporarily seizing phones and deleting footage, are clearly impermissible. Other actions, taken individually, are not: it is not improper for police to inspect vehicles and issue citations for infractions, and by law, individuals must submit to identity checks.

The circumstances in which these tactics are used, however, suggest that police are not employing them for public safety or other legitimate policing purposes. In many cases, the circumstances suggest that police engage in these acts to intimidate aid workers, or at the very least to create obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Moreover, in combination, such policing practices bring the police force into disrepute.

In particular, police check aid workers’ documents with such frequency that there is little justification for the checks as a means of establishing identity. “They do ID checks all the time,” Loan Torondel, of L’Auberge des Migrants, told Human Rights Watch.[111] Other humanitarian workers told us that police sometimes subjected them to multiple identity checks during the same distribution. A law student volunteering with L’Auberge des Migrants said that in late May or early June:

We had two ID controls within one hour. It was the same situation, the same distribution, yet we had two ID controls.[112]

She added, “We asked the policeman to explain why he controlled us a second time. He didn’t give a clear answer; he said something about the state of emergency.” When she pointed out that police can only check documents for specific reasons set out in French law, the police officer eventually told them the second check was because the aid workers had “regrouped.” In fact, “the distribution was finished; we were in the van ready to go,” she told Human Rights Watch.[113]

Numerous humanitarian workers said that police officers addressed them by name when asking for documents, reinforcing the conclusion the checks were not intended to establish identity.

When police conduct document checks, they typically require everybody who is being “controlled” to remain in the same place until all documents are checked. This practice means that identity checks can be used as a means of delaying or even halting food distribution. In late June, for instance, a humanitarian worker said that when they attempted to start an evening distribution, “We were controlled for an hour. During that time, we couldn’t move. We just had to stand there waiting.”[114]

Document checks also prevent aid workers from observing how police treat migrants when they halt food distributions. Sarah Arrom, of Utopia 56, said that during a June food distribution, the police required them to stay around the trucks during a document check:

They used flashlights in our eyes so we couldn’t see what they were doing. They don’t like us to witness what they do. They really hate that.[115]

Some humanitarian workers said they have also been subject to pat-downs by police. Loan Torondel said:

This is something police can do if they have a good reason to think you might have drugs or arms on you. When they did it to me, I had just been distributing food.[116]

In response to these and other police tactics, some humanitarian workers have begun filming police conduct at food distributions. Noting correctly that French law does not prohibit filming police in public places,[117] a humanitarian worker said, “Even so, the police threaten us when we film them.”[118]

In one such case, in June, an officer with the riot police took a phone out of a humanitarian worker’s hand as she was filming. The humanitarian worker told Human Rights Watch that the officer initially refused to return her phone when she asked for it back. He looked through her photos before eventually returning it to her.[119] In other instances, humanitarian workers said that police had deleted videos and photographs on their phones before returning the devices.[120]

Police also frequently inspect all vehicles in areas where distributions are held, issuing fines for very minor infractions. “They’ll often say we parked the wrong way,” Sarah Arrom, of Utopia 56, told us. “We know that’s not the case, because we have to be very careful about those kinds of things.”[121] We also heard of fines for low tire pressure, dirt on mirrors and windscreens, and insufficient windscreen fluid, among other technical infractions.

On June 28, after police ended the evening distribution shortly after 8:00 p.m., a Human Rights Watch researcher observed as an officer issued two littering citations, each carrying a fine of €68, to a staff member of L’Auberge des Migrants, one of the organizations overseeing the distribution. When she objected that some migrants had left their food on the ground because police ordered them back into the woods, the police commissioner replied that he was particularly concerned for the health of the seagulls that might eat the food and said that she should consider herself lucky not to receive a citation for every box of food left behind.

Summarizing such reports, the French ombudsman observed in June:

When they try to set up facilities that should be set up by public authorities (showers, distributions of food and water), the associations are impeded and threatened: tickets for vehicles parked in front of the associations’ premises, orders for a long-established association kitchen to comply with [restaurant food preparation] standards, threats of prosecution for assisting people residing illegally [in France].[122]

Such interactions between individual police officers and humanitarian workers raise concerns that those individual police officers, at least, regard such tactics as a way to reduce the number of irregular migrants in and around Calais by impeding humanitarian activities. “The idea they have is it’s the volunteers who are causing migrants to come,” one humanitarian worker said.[123]

Identity checks are particularly open to abuse, as studies by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the French National Center for Scientific Research, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, and Human Rights Watch, among other groups, have found.[124]

The failure to carry an identity card is not in itself an offence in France, but police are authorized to detain a person for up to four hours to establish identity. French police are not required to offer any explanation for the stop, and they do not provide any written record of the stop.

Police in France have an obligation “to refrain from any act, comment, or behavior that could damage the reputation of the police or the gendarmerie” and should “take care not to harm the credit and renown of these institutions by their behavior.”[125] They should strive to “carry out their duties in a manner which is beyond reproach.”[126] The tactics employed by police in Calais do not meet these standards.

Assessing the range of policing tactics used against members of humanitarian groups, Sarah Arrom, of Utopia 56, said:

What we are doing is legal. The police can control our ID.... We never try to stop a police operation. We don’t interfere with their job. We respect their job. We ask that they respect our jobs.[127]

V. Police Abuse as Negative Factors in Asylum, Access to Child Services

Police abuse of asylum seekers and migrants is problematic in its own right, but it also has significant knock-on effects. When police abuse migrants, harass aid workers, and disrupt humanitarian assistance, they contribute to negative experiences and feelings of alienation, reinforcing practical barriers to seeking asylum.

Many obstacles exist to those in Calais who want asylum, including:

  1. Distance of asylum office: the office nearest to Calais is in Lille, 110 kilometers away. Many migrants cannot afford the cost of transport, and those who can risk detention if they travel by public transport. Asked whether local authorities would support the establishment of an asylum office in Calais, Vincent Berton, deputy prefect for Calais, said: “There is no obligation for the State to examine the asylum claim in Calais. Calais is not the most appropriate place. We do not wish to recreate a camp.”[128]
  2. Delayed appointments: After an asylum seeker indicates a desire to seek asylum, an association delegated by the French Office for Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, OFPRA) should give the asylum seeker an appointment with the asylum office (guichet unique) within 3 to 10 days to register their claim. After this initial appointment, the asylum seeker should receive an asylum claim certification and has 21 days to submit a formal asylum application.[129] In reality, they usually wait between one and two months for the appointment, Human Rights Watch heard.[130] In the meantime, they remain in limbo—generally ineligible for accommodation in a reception center or for the monthly allowance (allocation pour demandeur d’asile) received by asylum seekers not housed in reception centers.[131]
  3. Lack of information: Some of the children and adults Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they did not know that they could apply for asylum in France. Some did not know what asylum was. Others replied with questions of their own about how to apply and what the benefits of asylum were.

For many asylum seekers and migrants, these barriers are compounded by the police.

Nearly all those whom Human Rights Watch interviewed who did not want to stay in France cited their treatment at the hands of French police as an important factor in that decision. “I love Paris. I love the French language. But no. The police here are very bad,” Layla A., an 18-year-old woman from Ethiopia, said.[132] Similarly, when we asked Biniam T., a 17-year-old boy from Ethiopia, if he had considered applying for asylum in France, he told us, “The way the police treat us is not good. France is not a good place for refugees.”[133] Meiga T., a 16-year-old Oromo boy, replied to the same question by shaking his head and saying, “The police spray. They say fuck off.”[134]

An independent inquiry conducted by British lawmakers and sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation found, in fact, that “the hostile actions of the French authorities [in Calais] have created a more immediate ‘push factor’ of trafficking to the UK.”[135]

Police mistreatment and abuses of asylum seekers and migrants can also adversely impact access to child protection services.

For unaccompanied children in Calais, the closest child protection shelter is in Saint-Omer, 45 kilometers away. The shelter generally places new arrivals in a facility located in a converted gymnasium, intended for use on an emergency basis, and a lack of space in the facility intended for longer-term use means that they may remain in the emergency facility for an extended period. “It should be a quick process for kids to get into the real child protection part of Saint-Omer. That isn’t happening. They can’t say when they’ll offer kids a place and provide them with a proper social and legal support,” Sabriya Guivy, legal adviser for Refugee Youth Service, told us.[136] The emergency facility offers little privacy and has no social workers or other specialized services.[137]

As a result, many leave the shelter after one or two nights. “They end up using it to take a break from sleeping in the woods,” another humanitarian worker said.[138]

Sabriya Guivy told Human Rights Watch that child protection authorities fail to understand why many children leave the shelter after short periods. “Their idea is that the unaccompanied kids don’t want to be protected. But the authorities aren’t actively fulfilling their duty of care,” she said.[139]

Outside regular business hours, the police are responsible for arranging transfers to the shelter and may hold children overnight at the station, something that deters children from seeking a place in the shelter. “They [the unaccompanied children] don’t see the police as their friends,” a humanitarian worker told us.[140]

As the French ombudsman noted in a June 14 statement, “being put in the care of child welfare services implies, in the evening and at night, going through the police station, so this procedure is a particularly strong deterrent.”[141]

Aid groups report that police sometimes refuse outright to arrange for transfers. On June 30, for example, when two humanitarian workers approached the police commissioner at the end of a midnight food distribution to request assistance for a 16-year-old boy who asked to go to the shelter, the commissioner denied their request.

In the presence of two Human Rights Watch researchers, he stated that he would not arrange the boy’s transfer because he did not believe the boy was under 18. When a humanitarian worker reminded him that age assessment was not his responsibility and that authorities were obligated to give the benefit of the doubt in close cases, he repeated that he did not believe that the boy was 16 and would not arrange for the boy’s transfer to the shelter.

Aster N., a 17-year-old Ethiopian girl, said: “Someone who is underage can’t think things through like a mature person. They can’t protect themselves physically or mentally. They need support.”[142]

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, based on research he undertook with Helen Griffiths, children’s rights coordinator; Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director; and Camille Marquis, senior advocacy associate, in June and July 2017. Victoria González Maltes, intern in the Paris office, provided research assistance.

Zama Neff, executive director of the Children’s Rights Division; Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director; Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser; and Danielle Haas, senior editor, edited the report. Bill Frelick, refugee program director, and Bénédicte Jeannerod also reviewed the report. Michelle Lonnquist, associate; Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and José Martínez, senior coordinator, produced the report. Zoé Deback translated the report into French, and Camille Marquis reviewed the translation.

We appreciate the willingness of the directorate of asylum of the Ministry of the Interior in Paris and of Vincent Berton, deputy prefect for Calais, to meet with us to discuss our findings prior to this report’s publication.

Human Rights Watch is particularly grateful to the nongovernmental organizations and individuals who generously assisted us in the course of this research, including Margot Bernard, Loan Torondel, and other staff and volunteers of L’Auberge des Migrants; Evelyn McGregor, Dunkirk Legal Support Team; the staff and volunteers of Gynécologie Sans Frontières; Annie Gavrilescu and other staff and volunteers of Help Refugees; Madeleine Harris, Humans for Rights Network; Médecins Sans Frontières; the Plateforme de Service aux Migrants; Micaela Bogen and other staff and volunteers of Refugee Info Bus; Sabriya Guivy, Michael McHugh, Sandy O’Brian, Arthur Thomas, and other staff and volunteers of Refugee Youth Service; Vincent de Coninck and other staff and volunteers of Secours Catholique; and Sarah Arrom, Gael Manzi, and other staff and volunteers of Utopia 56, as well as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Finally, we would like to thank the many children and adult refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants we interviewed.

[1] Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990), art. 1.

[2] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside Their Country of Origin, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (September 1, 2005), para. 7.

[3] Ibid., para. 8.

[4] See, for example, “Démantèlement de la ‘Jungle’: à Calais, ‘une page se tourne,’” L’Express, October 26, 2016, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/demantelement-de-la-jungle-a-calais-une-page-se-tourne_1844687.html (accessed July 13, 2017).

[5] Dominique Salomez, “Fabienne Buccio, la préfète du Pas-de-Calais en première ligne,” La Voix du Nord (Calais), October 29, 2016, http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/66830/article/2016-10-29/fabienne-buccio-la-prefete-du-pas-de-calais-en-premiere-ligne# (accessed July 13, 2017).

[6] See “France/United Kingdom: Protect Children Before Calais Closes,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/21/france/united-kingdom-protect-children-calais-closes; Helen Griffiths (Human Rights Watch), “France, UK Failing Unaccompanied Children in Calais,” October 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/21/france-uk-failing-unaccompanied-children-calais.

[7] “France: Unfinished Calais Efforts Leave Many at Risk,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 27, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/27/france-unfinished-calais-efforts-leave-many-risk; Lisa O’Carroll and Alice Ross, “Calais: Refugee Children ‘Sleeping Rough’ After Camp Demolition, Guardian, October 27, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/27/calais-refugee-children-sleeping-rough-demolition-charities-france (accessed July 19, 2017); Lisa O’Carroll, Amelia Gentleman, and Alan Travis, “Calais Minors Lured from Camp Then Abandoned by Authorities,” Guardian, October 27, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/27/calais-camp-minors-children-abandoned-uk-france-human-rights (accessed July 19, 2017).

[8] “France/UK: Lone Children from Calais Left in Limbo,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/france/uk-lone-children-calais-left-limbo.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Tom Peck, “Government Backtracks on Pledge to Take Child Refugees,” The Independent, February 8, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/only-350-syrian-refugee-children-will-be-allowed-to-settle-in-britain-thousands-less-than-promised-a7569691.html (accessed July 14, 2017); Michael Garcia Bochenek (Human Rights Watch), “Britain Has Sullied Its Proud History of Helping Child Refugees,” February 10, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/10/britain-has-sullied-its-proud-history-helping-child-refugees.

[11] See May Bulman, “UK Government to Take in 130 More Refugee Children Under Dubs Following ‘Administrative Error,’” Independent, April 26, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-refugees-error-stopped-children-allowed-into-country-government-mistake-home-office-a7703836.html (accessed July 14, 2017).

[12] See Alan Travis, “UK Has Not Taken In Any Child Refugees Under Dubs Scheme This Year,” Guardian, July 19, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/19/uk-not-taken-any-child-refugees-dubs-scheme-this-year (accessed July 19, 2017).

[13] See, for example, Human Rights Watch, “Lone Children from Calais Left in Limbo”; Christine Beddoe, “Nobody Deserves to Live This Way! An Independent Inquiry into the Situation of Separated and Unaccompanied Minors in Parts of Europe,” July 2017, http://humantraffickingfoundation.org/sites/default/files/HTF%20Separated%20%26%20Unaccompanied%20 Minors%20Report%20%5BHi-Res%5D.pdf (accessed July 19, 2017), pp. 35-39. Under the regulations, unaccompanied children should be allowed to reunite with their father, mother, or other adult who is responsible for them, and with siblings, uncles, aunts, or grandparents if they are able to take care of the child and the transfer is otherwise in the child’s best interest. See EU Regulation No. 604/2013 (June 26, 2013), arts. 6, 8, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/ PDF/?uri=CELEX:32013R0604&from=EN (accessed July 14, 2017).

[14] Police evicted some 2,700 migrants from La Chapelle on the morning of July 7, 2017, said to be the 34th such eviction in Paris in the last two years. The previous eviction from La Chapelle, which took place in May 2017, relocated 1,600 migrants. See Charlotte Chabas, “A la porte de la Chapelle, ‘la répétition des évacuations de migrants tourne à l’absurde,’” Le Monde, July 7, 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/immigration-et-diversite/article/2017/07/07/evacuation-des-campements-de-migrants-dans-le-nord-de-paris_5157051_1654200.html (accessed July 13, 2017); Angelique Chrisafis, “Police Remove 2,000 Refugees and Migrants Sleeping Rough in Paris,” The Guardian, July 7, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/07/french-police-evict-2000-refugees-and-migrants-sleeping-rough-in-paris (accessed July 13, 2017).

[15] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, July 5, 2017; Email message from Michael McHugh, Refugee Youth Service, to Human Rights Watch, July 18, 2017.

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with Vincent Berton, deputy prefect, Calais, July 7, 2017.

[17] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, July 5, 2017; July 18, 2017.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Yeakob S., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Kuma N., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[21] Défenseur des droits, “Visite des services du Défenseur des droits le lundi 12 juin à Calais,” June 14, 2017, https://www.defenseurdesdroits.fr/node/23868 (accessed July 13, 2017).

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Aster N., Calais, July 1, 2017.

[23] See Delphine de Mallevoüe, “La maire de Calais interdit la distribution des repas aux migrants,” Le Figaro, March 2, 2017, http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2017/03/02/01016-20170302ARTFIG00236-la-maire-de-calais-interdit-la-distribution-des-repas-aux-migrants.php (accessed July 13, 2017).

[24] Tribunal administratif [TA] [regional administrative court of first instance] Lille, No. 1702397, March 22, 2017, http://lille. tribunal-administratif.fr/content/download/94432/908817/version/1/file/1702397.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017). Administrative tribunals hear cases that seek to have administrative acts annulled (recours pour excès de pouvoir), among other types of cases. See Jean Massot, “The Powers and Duties of the French Administrative Judge,” April 1, 2016, p. 4, https: //law.yale.edu/system/files/area/conference/compadmin/compadmin16_massot_powers.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017).

[25] Marie Goudeseune, “Après la décision de justice, comment se passent les distributions de repas?” La Voix du Nord (Calais), April 17, 2017, http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/149721/article/2017-04-17/apres-la-decision-de-justice-comment-se-passent-les-distributions-de-repas (accessed July 13, 2017).

[26] Human Rights Watch interview with Loan Torondel, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[28] “Obligations d’aide aux migrants à Calais: l’État fait appel,” Libération (Paris), July 6, 2017, http://www.liberation.fr/ direct/element/obligations-daide-aux-migrants-a-calais-letat-fait-appel_67289/ (accessed July 13, 2017).

[29] See, for example, TA Lille, No. 1702397, p. 3.

[30] “Migrants: Gérard Collomb, en visite à Calais, annonce un plan sur l’asile sous quinze jours,” Le Monde, June 23, 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2017/06/23/migrants-gerard-collomb-en-visite-a-calais-annonce-un-plan-sur-l-asile-sous-quinze-jours_5149897_823448.html (accessed July 13, 2017). See also “Calais : Collomb ne veut pas de "point de fixation" pour les migrants,” France 24, June 23, 2017, http://www.france24.com/fr/20170623-visite-calais-collomb-affiche-fermete-migrants-jungle-ministre (accessed July 13, 2017).

[31] Quentin Laurent, “L’immigration, une priorité du gouvernement,” Le Parisien, July 5, 2017, http://www.leparisien.fr/societe /l-immigration-une-priorite-du-gouvernement-05-07-2017-7111509.php (accessed July 13, 2017).

[32] See En Marche!, “Immigration et asile: L’Europe fait actuellement face à une crise migratoire sans precedent,” undated, https://en-marche.fr/emmanuel-macron/le-programme/immigration-et-asile (accessed July 13, 2017).

[33] See Government of France, “Garantir le droit d’asile, mieux maîtriser les flux migratoires: dossier de presse,” July 12, 2017, https://www.immigration.interieur.gouv.fr/Info-ressources/Actualites/L-actu-immigration/Garantir-le-droit-d-asile-mieux-maitriser-les-flux-migratoires (accessed July 13, 2017).

[34] Présidence de la République française, “Conférence de presse d'Emmanuel Macron le mercredi 12 juillet 2017 au sommet des balkans occidentaux à Trieste,” July 13, 2017, http://www.elysee.fr/conferences-de-presse/article/conference-de-presse-d-emmanuel-macron-le-mercredi-12-juillet-2017-au-sommet-des-balkans-occidentaux-a-trieste/ (accessed July 17, 2017).

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Nebay T., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Moti W., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with Abel G., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Mirwas A., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Yahya R., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Abel G., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Wahid N., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Eba J., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Layla A., Calais, July 1, 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Abel G., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Saare Y., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Kidane H., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 29, 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Birhan G., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Arthur Thomas, youth protection coordinator, Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants, June 28, 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with health worker (name withheld at her request), Calais, June 29, 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Abel G., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Meiga T., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Demiksa N, Calais, June 29, 2017.

[55] C. Gregory Smith and Woodhall Stopford, “Health Hazards of Pepper Spray,” North Carolina Medical Journal, vol. 60 (1999), p. 272, http://duketox.mc.duke.edu/pepper%20spray.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017). The study also noted that the “[u]se of OC to inflict pain is abusive and may cause emotional sequelae.” Ibid. (citing Michael D. Cohen, “The Human Health Effects of Pepper Spray—A Review of the Literature and Commentary,” Journal of Correctional Health Care, vol. 4 (1997), pp. 73-88 (noting that behavioral and mental health effects may occur if pepper spray is used abusively)).

[56] See Barry Krisberg, “General Corrections Review of the California Youth Authority,” December 23, 2003, p. 30 (noting that some detained youth “had received severe burns to their skin because they were not permitted timely access to showers after being sprayed”), http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/ca-youth-authority.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017).

[57] Christine Beddoe, “Nobody Deserves to Live This Way!,” p. 26.

[58] Leah Pinney, “Pepper Spray in the Texas Youth Commission: Research Review and Policy Recommendations,” Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, November 2007, http://www.njjn.org/uploads/digital-library/pepper.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017).

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Meiga T., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Hakim T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Arthur Thomas, youth protection coordinator, Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Jalil M., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan E., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Wako L., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Saare Y., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Hiwa S., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Negasu M., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Gebre M., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Kojo D., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[73] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), July 18, 2017.

[74] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), July 20, 2017.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Nasim Z., Calais, June 30, 2017.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan E., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Hakim T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Abel G., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Waysira L., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Gudina W., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[87] See “French Police Caught on Video Beating Migrants,” France 24, May 12, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20150512-french-police-video-calais-migrants (accessed July 13, 2017).

[88] “France: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Abused and Destitute,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 20, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/20/france-migrants-asylum-seekers-abused-and-destitute.

[89] See UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, principles 4 and 5, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/UseOfForceAndFirearms.aspx (accessed July 20, 2017).

[90] Code de déontologie de la police nationale et de la gendarmerie nationale, art. R.434-18, https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Le-ministere/Deontologie (accessed July 13, 2017). The rules in this code “define the obligations incumbent on police officers and gendarmes as they carry out their tasks of law enforcement on duty and off duty.” Ibid., art. R.434-3(I).

[91] See, for example, Défenseur des Droits, “Visite des services du Défenseur des droits le lundi 12 juin à Calais”; Christine Beddoe, “Nobody Deserves to Live This Way!” pp. 11, 25, 42, 49; Utopia 56 and L’Auberge des Migrants, “Faire cesser les violences subies par les réfugiés à Calais,” May 31, 2017, http://www.utopia56.com/en/system/files/file_fields/2017/06/01 /lettreofficiel.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017); Lilly Monk, Natalie Stanton, and Marta Welander, Six Months On: Filling Information Gaps Relating to Children and Young Adults in Northern France Following the Demolition of the Calais Camp (London: Refugee Rights Data Project, April 2017), http://refugeerights.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/RRDP_ SixMonthsOn.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017).

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Vincent Berton, deputy prefect, Calais, July 7, 2017.

[93] TA Lille, No. 1702397, para. 11.

[94] Marie Goudeseune, “Après la décision de justice, comment se passent les distributions de repas?” La Voix du Nord (Calais), April 17, 2017.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with Emma Groombridge, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Loan Torondel, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Vincent Berton, deputy prefect, Calais, July 7, 2017.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), Help Refugees, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), Utopia 65, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[103] TA Lille, No. 1705379, p. 17.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 29, 2017.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Eba J., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[107] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L622-1.

[108] Ibid., art. L622-4.

[109] Reception Conditions Directive, Directive 2013/33/EU, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX: 32013L0033&from=EN (accessed July 13, 2017).

[110] TA Lille, No. 1702397, para. 11.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Loan Torondel, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[113] Email from volunteer, L’Auberge des Migrants, to Human Rights Watch, July 19, 2017. For a discussion of the permissible bases for identity checks in French law and the inadequate legal safeguards against abusive identity checks, see Human Rights Watch, “The Root of Humiliation”: Abusive Identity Checks in France (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2012), pp. 28-30, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/01/26/root-humiliation/abusive-identity-checks-france. For a discussion of the “state of emergency” declared in November 2015 and regularly extended since that time, see Bénédicte Jeannerod (Human Rights Watch), “France Is Addicted to the State of Emergency. Put an End to It, Mr. President,” commentary, Libération (Paris), July 11, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/11/france-addicted-state-emergency-put-end-it-mr-president.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Loan Torondel, L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[117] See Memorandum from Minister of the Interior to the Prefect of Police et al., “Enregistrement et diffusion éventuelle d’images et de paroles de fonctionnaires de police dans l’exercise de leurs fonctions,” No. 2008-8433.D, December 23, 2008, http://www.montpellier-journal.fr/fichiers/circulairephotospolice.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017).

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at her request), Calais, June 28, 2017.

[120] Human Rights Watch interviews with humanitarian workers (names withheld at their request), Calais, June 28, 29, 2017.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[122] Défenseur des droits, “Visite des services du Défenseur des droits le lundi 12 juin à Calais.”

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, June 29, 2017.

[124] Indira Goris, Fabien Jobard, and René Lévy, Profiling Minorities: A Study of Stop-and-Search Practices in Paris (New York: Open Society Institute, 2009), https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/search_20090630.Web.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017); EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Police Stops and Minorities,” Data in Focus Report 4, 2010, http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/attachments/EU-MIDIS-police.pdf (accessed July 13, 2017); Human Rights Watch, “The Root of Humiliation.”

[125] Code de déontologie de la police nationale et de la gendarmerie nationale, art. R.434-12.

[126] Ibid., art. R.434-3(I).

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Sarah Arrom, Utopia 56, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with Vincent Berton, July 5, 2017.

[129] See Code de l'entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d'asile, art. L.741-1, as modified by Loi No. 2015-925 du 29 juillet 2015 relative à la réforme du droit d'asile, art. 19, in Journal officiel “Lois et Décrets” No. 0174 (July 30, 2015), p. 12,977; Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, “La procédure de demande d’asile: Demander l’asile en France,” July 21, 2016, https://www.ofpra.gouv.fr/fr/asile/la-procedure-de-demande-d-asile/demander-l-asile-en-france (accessed July 17, 2017). See also Administration française, “Première étape de la demande d'asile: enregistrement en prefecture,” October 2, 2015, https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F2232 (accessed July 17, 2017).

[130] Human Rights Watch interviews, Calais, June 28, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, July 5, 2017.

[131] See Anais Renevier, “Non, Merci! Why Refugees Avoid France,” IRIN, October 20, 2015, http://newirin.irinnews.org/non-merci-why-refugees-avoid-france/ (accessed July 13, 2015).

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Layla A., Calais, July 1, 2017.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with Biniam T., Calais, June 28, 2017.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with Meiga T., Calais, June 29, 2017.

[135] Christine Beddoe, “Nobody Deserves to Live This Way!” p. 10.

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Sabriya Guivy, legal adviser, Refugee Youth Service, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with Arthur Thomas, youth protection coordinator, Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, July 1, 2017.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with Sabriya Guivy, legal adviser, Refugee Youth Service, Calais, June 28, 2017.

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Calais, July 1, 2017.

[141] Défenseur des droits, “Visite des services du Défenseur des droits le lundi 12 juin à Calais.”

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with Aster N., Calais, July 1, 2017.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police check identity documents after halting a distribution of food, water, and clothing in an industrial area of Calais shortly after midnight on June 30, 2017.

© 2017 Mail on Sunday/Philip Ide

(Paris) – French police in Calais routinely abuse asylum seekers and other migrants, Human Rights Watch said today. The French authorities turn a blind eye to the widespread reports of the abuse.

The 40-page report, “‘Like Living in Hell’: Police Abuses Against Child and Adult Migrants in Calais,” finds that police forces in Calais, particularly the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat. Police also regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, and have sometimes used pepper spray on migrants’ food and water, apparently to press them to leave the area. Such acts violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment as well as international standards on police conduct, which call for police to use force only when it is unavoidable, and then only with restraint, in proportion to the circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

“It is reprehensible for police to use pepper spray on children and adults who are asleep or peacefully going about their day,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, Human Rights Watch’s France director. “When police destroy or take migrants’ blankets, shoes, or food, they demean their profession as well as harm people whose rights they’ve sworn to uphold.”

The report is based on interviews with more than 60 asylum seekers and other migrants in and around Calais and Dunkerque, including 31 unaccompanied children, in June and July 2017. Human Rights Watch also met with the deputy prefect for Calais and officials in the Interior Ministry in Paris, and with numerous lawyers, social workers, and other staff and volunteers of nongovernmental organizations operating in Calais.

After police halted an evening distribution of food and clothing, three officers stop and question a boy who had paused to change his shoes before returning to the wooded area where he and other migrants spend the night, May 2017. 

© 2017 Help Refugees

Over 400 asylum seekers and other migrants, most from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, are living on the streets and in wooded areas in and around Calais. As many as 200 are unaccompanied children. At least 300 more adults and children, Iraqi Kurds as well as Afghans and other nationalities, live in migrant camps in and around Dunkerque and Grande-Synthe, east of Calais.

The deputy prefect for Calais vehemently denied charges of police abuse, describing them as slander, but Human Rights Watch findings are based on consistent and detailed accounts by nearly every asylum seeker and migrant interviewed.

Human Rights Watch also found that local authorities have responded to the return of migrants to Calais in increasing numbers by impeding their access to food, water, and other basic necessities. A court found in March that local authorities efforts to bar distributions by aid groups amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) has also criticized these and other measures by local authorities, concluding that they contribute to “inhuman living conditions” for asylum seekers and migrants in Calais.

A second court ruling, issued on June 26, directed authorities to provide migrants with access to drinking water, toilets, and facilities for showering and washing clothes, with 10 days to comply. Authorities appealed the ruling on July 6. The appeal is scheduled to be heard on July 28.

Seventeen-year-old Biniam T. told Human Rights Watch, “If they catch us when we are sleeping, they will spray us and take all of our stuff. Every two or three days they do this. They’ll come and take our blankets.”

Asylum seekers and other migrants in Calais stand in line at a late-night distribution of food, blankets, and clothing, March 2017. 

© 2017 Private

Aid workers described one occasion when gendarmes bearing rifles surrounded them and multiple occasions when riot police otherwise forcibly blocked migrants’ access to aid workers and knocked food out of the workers hands.

When aid workers have tried to photograph or film these acts, police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or examining the contents without permission and without legal basis.

Until the end of October 2016, a sprawling, squalid shantytown on the edge of the city held as many as 10,000 asylum seekers and migrants, including many unaccompanied children, and municipal authorities in Calais speak frequently of their determination not to allow a migrant camp to be re-established on the city’s fringes.

Local authorities have particularly opposed calls to establish a migrant shelter or an asylum office in Calais, contending that it would encourage more migrants to travel to northern France. During a June 23, 2017 visit to Calais, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb echoed these sentiments.

At the same time, President Emmanuel Macron has promised a humane approach to refugees, including reforming the asylum system. At an European Union summit in Trieste, Italy, earlier in July, he said, “[T]he women and the men who first were coming from Syria, today are coming from Eritrea, or from many other countries, and who are fighting for freedom, must be welcomed in Europe, and especially in France. Therefore we will obviously do our part in this fight.”

Local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to adhere to international standards on the use of force and to refrain from conduct that interferes with aid delivery, subject to appropriate disciplinary action for abuse of authority or other misconduct, Human Rights Watch said. In particular, police should be instructed not to use pepper spray on migrants in any circumstances in which nonviolent means would be effective in achieving a legitimate purpose.

The Interior Ministry should also urgently remove obstacles to refugee protection, including by either establishing an asylum office in Calais or facilitating applications in existing offices. The ministry should work with appropriate agencies and humanitarian groups to provide accommodation as soon as possible to all asylum applicants and to arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.

Local and national authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have access to child protection services, including shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.

“Authorities should send a clear message that police harassment or other abuse of power will not be tolerated,” Jeannerod said. “The government should make sure that migrants are protected and able to apply for asylum.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Entrance into the Moria hotspot in Lesbos, Greece, where children registered as adults are accommodated with unrelated adult single men, exposed to very poor living conditions, including overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, and frequent incidents of violence.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

(Athens) – Unaccompanied migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos are being incorrectly identified as adults and housed with unrelated adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and unable to access the specific care they need, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The misidentification of unaccompanied migrant kids on Lesbos as adults leads to real problems, including lumping them together with unrelated adults and denying them the care they need,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities need to take responsibility for properly identifying unaccompanied children and providing them the protection and care every child needs.”

On visits to Lesbos island from May 22 to 28 and June 27 to 30, 2017, Human Rights Watch spoke with 20 children, some as young as 15, who said they had been wrongly registered as adults by the Greek authorities.

Flawed and inadequate procedures leave unaccompanied migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos housed with unrelated adults, vulnerable to abuse, and unable to access the specific care they need.

Under Greek and international law, unaccompanied children are entitled to special care and protection. But the flawed age assessment procedures that are being followed in practice mean that some of these children are wrongly deemed adults during registration, despite an assurance by Greek officials to Human Rights Watch that a proper, multidiscipline procedure is followed. Other children claim to be adults, believing it will allow them to avoid detention or because they follow bad advice from adults, but then realize they have made a mistake and try to persuade the authorities to register them correctly. They can spend months trying to change their official status, and in the meantime often continue to be treated as adults, or reach adulthood, known as “aging out,” while waiting for their correct age to be assessed.

Human Rights Watch found that officials who register new arrivals sometimes arbitrarily record children’s ages as older than the children themselves give. Authorities also often require unaccompanied children to receive cursory dental examinations at the local hospital as a form of age assessment, following which authorities may insist the child is in fact an adult and register them as such. Human Rights Watch found this occurs despite a 2013 ministerial decision setting out a multidiscipline approach to age assessment, with medical examinations as an option of last resort and despite an assurance from Greece’s Reception and Identification Service (RIS), a Greek government agency, that the principle of the best interest of the child always prevails.

On the other hand, reception service officials do not usually question unaccompanied children who claim to be adults even when their appearance strongly suggests that they are well under 18. In practice, authorities fail to provide children with adequate information about their rights during the reception and identification process on the islands and take no steps to verify whether an individual claiming to be an adult is a child, creating a risk that trafficked children will not be identified and protected from further harm.

While registered unaccompanied children should be transferred to safe accommodation, Greece has a chronic shortage of space. Pending placement in a shelter, the authorities often detain unaccompanied migrant children in police stations, immigration detention facilities, and European Union-managed asylum processing centers. As of June 20, 1,149 unaccompanied migrant children were on the waiting list for shelter, including 296 detained in such facilities.

Coastal area near Panagiouda village on Lesbos, Greece, one of the islands to which many asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, have been confined with the aim of returning them to Turkey following a deeply flawed March 2016 EU deal.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

The problem has grown more acute since the arrival of more than 1 million people in the Greek islands in 2015 and 2016. Border closures in countries to the north have effectively trapped asylum seekers and migrants in Greece, and a deeply flawed EU deal with Turkey, signed in March 2016, has led Greece to restrict asylum seekers to the Greek islands with the aim of returning them to Turkey.

Nongovernmental organizations on Lesbos told Human Rights Watch they have identified at least 60 people registered as adults who claim to be children.

Children registered as adults are left to fend for themselves and are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, and other abuse. They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education. They have little or no access to care, protection, or specialized services, and are excluded from accommodation for unaccompanied children.

Once the Greek authorities register unaccompanied children as adults for whatever reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to change their status. Even when nongovernmental groups identify children as wrongly registered as adults, it can take months to overcome the burdensome bureaucratic procedures to establish their real age and register them as children. The process of being recognized as children took so long in some cases Human Rights Watch examined that the children had turned 18 during the intervening period. This undermined their ability to reunite with family members in other EU countries or to get specialized housing or services for children.

Statements from these children about how they feel suggest the situation in which they find themselves in Greece is causing psychological harm and exacerbates existing mental health conditions, Human Rights Watch said. All the children interviewed reported experiencing psychological distress, including symptoms such as anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Two children reported harming themselves.

Authorities in Greece should urgently improve the quality of their age assessment procedures, bringing them into line with international best practices, Human Rights Watch said. Greek authorities should take steps to identify children, give children whose age is disputed the benefit of the doubt in close cases, and ensure that unaccompanied children have access to decent accommodation where they can receive care, education, counseling, legal aid, guardianship, and other essential services. Those who are determined to be over 18 should be accommodated in special housing for young adults and given access to adequate services, including psychosocial support and mental health services.

The European Commission and the European Asylum Support Office should make use of their presence on the islands to ensure that the Greek authorities’ age assessment methods and procedures fully comply with the legal safeguards provided by Greek and EU law, and that children are given the benefit of the doubt where results are inconclusive. The EU emergency relocation mechanism should also be urgently extended to unaccompanied children identified on the Greek islands, irrespective of nationality, and EU member states should accelerate relocation of unaccompanied migrant children.

“Vulnerable kids in Greece who have endured dangerous journeys far from their families should not have to fight for months just to prove they are children,” Cossé said. “Greece should do a better job identifying these children so they get the care they need and deserve.”

“Amadou,” a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy from West Africa standing by two other people in hammocks in Lesbos, Greece.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

Registering Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Greek authorities formally registered over 1,800 unaccompanied asylum-seeking and migrant children arriving in Greece in the first five months of 2017. Many of them are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, countries beset by armed conflict and serious human rights abuses. Some of the others, such as children from Pakistan, were escaping discrimination and poverty.

Greek legislation recognizes the government’s obligations to care for and protect unaccompanied migrant children. Under Greek law the government is supposed to appoint a guardian for each child to represent them in any legal or judicial proceeding, to hear the child’s views prior to any decision-making, and to act in their best interests. But Human Rights Watch found that authorities in Lesbos often register unaccompanied migrant children as adults. Invisible as children, and outside of care arrangements, these children are particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse.

The Greek Reception and Identification Service (RIS) is required to provide for the reception of third-country nationals entering the islands under conditions that guarantee human rights and dignity in accordance with international standards. New arrivals are brought to EU-managed asylum processing centers on the Greek islands, the so-called hotspots, for identification and registration.

The RIS is responsible for identifying and registering people who belong to “vulnerable” groups upon their arrival, which should include unaccompanied migrant children. The agency is supported in doing this by the Greek police; EU agencies, such as the border agency Frontex; UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency; the International Organization for Migration; and medical nongovernmental organizations. RIS is responsible for referring unaccompanied migrant children to social services and providing them with information on their rights, including their right to seek asylum. In a July 10 letter to Human Rights Watch, RIS said that particular attention is given to the procedures for unaccompanied children who “receive specific information adapted to their age or maturity about their legal status and the procedural possibilities offered at subsequent phases of the process.” In practice on Lesbos, though, Human Rights Watch found that RIS is failing to meet its responsibilities toward these children.

“Zahid,” a boy from Pakistan who said he was 16 when he arrived on Lesbos in March 2016, described the inadequate procedure during his first encounter with the authorities:

When I arrived, I was 16 but they [authorities] wrote on the papers 19. They didn’t even take me to the doctor. …. They asked me my name, my age, and then they took my fingerprints…. I told them I was 16. They separated me from the other people and took me where the unaccompanied children are [a restricted section for unaccompanied children inside the Moria hotspot]. They kept me there for 10 or 15 days and then they took me out again. They never explained to me why, they just took me out. Then I stayed with other people, outside [the children’s section]…. I don't know why they changed my age. I asked them many times and the only thing they told me is to sign some papers.  

Fifteen months after his arrival, Zahid, today 17, was still being treated as an adult by the authorities and his real age hadn’t been formally recognized.

“Amadou,” a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy from West Africa playing with a soccer ball in front of a container on Lesbos, Greece. Amadou, on Lesbos since October 2016, said the lack of adequate information and fear of detention, made him register as an adult but after a few days when he realized he made a mistake he was unable to register his real age.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

Children Who Claim to be Adults

Human Rights Watch spoke with six children in Lesbos who said they falsely claimed to be adults when they arrived in Greece. They did so, they said, because they feared detention or because they heard false information from smugglers or other migrants that registration as a child would lead to worse outcomes, such as separation from friends and distant family. When they realized the unpleasant consequences of being registered as an adult or because, finally, they were correctly advised, they said they told officials that they wanted to change their age to the correct one, but faced many obstacles.

“Hassan,” a boy from Afghanistan, said he was 15 when he arrived in June 2016:

Before doing my registration, several Afghans told me ‘don’t give your real age because they are going to keep you in the children’s section.’ … They [the authorities] told me ‘you look underage, if you have papers show them to us.’ I said I don’t have any papers and because the others had told me to not say I’m a minor, I said I’m an adult.

He said it took two other unrelated adults traveling with him to say he is an adult to convince the authorities. The inadequacy of identification procedures means that there is a serious risk that trafficked children are not recognized as such.

Hassan, who is now 16, lived for more than eight months with the general population of the Moria camp, mainly unrelated adult single men. At the time of our interview, in May, he had been living for two months in a protected area within the Moria hotspot that accommodates young men between the ages of 18 to 22 and some of those whose ages are disputed, run by the RIS. He said his age had been formally recognized by the Greek Asylum Service (GAS), in the context of the asylum process, but was still pending recognition by the RIS.

“[RIS told me] ‘You are a guest in our space and we are not responsible for you anymore.’ I just wanted to know what will happen to me and whether I’ll be transferred to a house [for unaccompanied children] and go to school.”

According to nongovernmental groups and children interviewed, when detention measures for unaccompanied children were relaxed on the island of Lesbos at the end of 2016, and children were allowed to go in and out of the section for unaccompanied migrant children, many children who had initially given a false age and registered as adults because of fear of detention said they changed their minds, wanting to register their real age. Others sought to do so when they received proper information from nongovernmental groups, which instructed them to tell the truth.

Rubber boats full of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving on the shore of Lesbos Island, Greece.

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

Inadequate Age Assessment

When authorities are in doubt as to whether a person is a child, Greek law requires that they must first give that person the benefit of the doubt, operating on a presumption of childhood, and second, perform a comprehensive age determination.

UNHCR and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have instructed countries not to base age determinations solely on the child’s physical appearance or on a single medical test, but also to consider psychological maturity and the margin of error of medical exams (which can be up to five years), and to give the benefit of doubt in making a determination. In ethical terms, such exams offer no medical benefit and the margin of error is so broad that the exams can’t establish what they are intended to do.

Best practices in age determination require a multidisciplinary approach. Any medical testing should be non-intrusive. X-rays for age determination are increasingly regarded as a violation of medical ethics because they expose children to radiological testing for no medical reason.

While an age determination process is ongoing, the person should not be detained or otherwise accommodated with unrelated adults.

As of October 2013, a decision by the health minister (MD 92490/2013) established for the first time an age assessment procedure applicable within the context of what was then called the First Reception Service, now the RIS.

The ministerial decision says that in cases in which there is justifiable doubt about the age of a third-country national, and the person may possibly be a child, they are to be referred to the RIS medical control and psychosocial support team for an age assessment. Initially, the age assessment will be based on physical appearance, such as height, weight, body mass index, voice, and hair growth, following a clinical examination by a pediatrician. In case the person’s age cannot be adequately determined, the psychologist and the social worker will assess the person’s cognitive, behavioral, and psychological development.

If a pediatrician is not available or the interdisciplinary staff cannot reach any firm conclusions – and only as a measure of last resort, the decision says – the person shall be referred to a public hospital for specialized medical examinations, such as dental or wrist X-rays. Staff there are to explain clearly their aims and the procedures to the person being examined.

In a July 10 letter to Human Rights Watch, RIS said that, “In any case, the principle of the child’s best interests, equal treatment, and proportionality must prevail. During the age assessment procedure as well as in case of doubts after its completion, the minority presumption prevails.”

Human Rights Watch found that the age assessment procedure provided in Greek law is not followed in practice on Lesbos. All 14 people interviewed who told the authorities they were under 18 when they arrived said they were registered as adults following a cursory age assessment, which in most cases consisted of a visit to the local hospital and a quick examination of their teeth. None of the children who had gone through this medical examination had first, or indeed ever, been interviewed by a psychologist or a social worker for an age assessment. Even though the procedure provided in Greek law had not been followed, RIS registered them as adults.

“Akash,” who is from Bangladesh and said he turned 18 in March, arrived on Lesbos in the summer of 2016, when he was 17. He said the authorities registered him as 18 following a quick visit to the hospital. “In the beginning, they wrote I was 17 but then they took me to the doctor and wrote down 18.” He said:

When they took me to the doctor, the doctor examined my teeth in order to define my age. But I don’t understand. There are people who have their wisdom teeth at the age of 17, others at the age of 18 and others at the age of 22. The doctor just examined my teeth. They changed my age [to 18] and took me out [of the children’s section].

Akash said he lived for more than four months with the general population of the camp before being transferred to a protected area inside Moria run by the RIS for people between the ages of 18-22. In early June 2017, he was transferred again outside, with the general population, due to lack of space. His real age was never formally recognized. “I tried as much as I could, but they [authorities] never accepted my age,” he said.

Contesting Designation as an Adult

Once children are registered as adults, either following a cursory age assessment procedure, or because they initially claimed they were adults, it is difficult if not impossible for them to change their status to that of a child.

Under Greek law, after a RIS age assessment procedure is completed, the person should be informed in a language they understand about the reasons for the decision. They have a right to appeal within 10 days, but RIS requires anyone who files an appeal to provide an original ID or original passport proving their age, which should be officially translated or verified, within this period.

All children interviewed said they faced practical difficulties in getting identification documents proving their age within the 10-day period. Human Rights Watch found that all appeals brought by children interviewed, were rejected by RIS. In rejecting the appeals, RIS disregarded the proven and objective difficulties for children to verify or officially translate the documents or to get legal assistance.

Some children said they had no parents or relatives in their home countries to provide the documents, and others had refugee profiles that could put them at risk if they contacted their embassies or relatives in their home countries.

For most, their only chance to seek to establish their age was at a later stage, during the asylum interview, conducted either by Greek Asylum Service (GAS) staff or officers of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). Greek law sets out guarantees for children in that procedure, including the appointment of a guardian to protect the child’s rights and best interests throughout the age determination procedure, and the guarantee that a person who claims to be a child should be treated as such until the completion of the age determination procedure. The law also explicitly provides the applicant with the benefit of the doubt even after the conclusion of the procedure if the person’s age has not definitively been determined.

Human Rights Watch found that when it comes to children who have been wrongly registered as adults by RIS, the asylum service does not deviate from RIS findings unless explicit proof is provided. In a July 12 letter to Human Rights Watch, the asylum service confirmed that it cannot change data recorded by RIS and the police during initial registration “unless the applicant produces compelling evidence (e.g. an original passport not presented to RIS or the police) to the contrary.” The procedure before the asylum service can last for months, and while it is ongoing, children interviewed by Human Rights Watch were treated as adults.

“Anush,” a boy from Afghanistan who said he initially registered as an adult in August 2016, tried to get his real age – 16 – recognized during his asylum interview in February 2017:

Because I told them I am a child, they didn’t ask me many questions. Basically, they asked me why I came from Turkey and didn’t stay there…. The interview lasted for an hour. They asked ‘Why didn’t you stay in Turkey? Why you didn’t go to UNHCR offices and register there?’ I told them that when I was in Turkey, a guy [smuggler] had me as some kind of a prisoner and also because I am under age I couldn’t have access to school or go to the hospital.

A worker with a nongovernmental group supporting “Anush” with his case said:

He provided his original birth certificate more than two-and-a-half months ago. We went to EASO, provided it, and registered him as a minor. The document was checked by Frontex as to whether it’s original. After waiting for more than two months, Anush goes to renew his asylum card and is given an appointment for a second interview, as an adult…. We go again today, and the EASO officer says in front of Anush, and the lawyer, that we need to do a new registration and that they had forgotten we already submitted the papers. Today, Anush lost completely his trust in the system and us.

At the time of our interview, in May, Anush was living with the adult population of the Moria camp and his real age hadn’t been formally recognized yet.

In a July 12 letter to Human Rights Watch, the asylum service said that if it appears that the asylum seeker is a child traveling alone, its officers are instructed to treat the case as such. The officer is obliged to notify the public prosecutor, who will act as the temporary guardian, and the National Center for Social Solidarity. In more general terms, the asylum service said that its officers are instructed to conduct the asylum interview always bearing in mind the best interest of the child.

Children at Risk

Unaccompanied children are some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world; international and European human rights law, as well as EU law, recognizes that vulnerability, and obliges countries to provide unaccompanied children with care. International law stipulates that the child’s best interest is a primary consideration in any decision affecting the child and that children deprived of their family environment are entitled to special protection and assistance by the state.

The failure to carry out proper age and vulnerability assessments means that many children are not recognized as children. Most find themselves without appropriate accommodation and therefore sleep in conditions that are overcrowded, unhygienic, and a risk to their physical health and mental well-being. They stay in open spaces on the Greek islands in official and unofficial sites, share tents or container housing with adult strangers, and are exposed to frequent incidents of violence. They are unable to go to school or otherwise access education.

On an ad-hoc basis, and depending on capacity, authorities on Lesbos place people who are seeking to prove they are under 18 in protected areas within the Moria hotspot. Some of the children interviewed were accommodated there at the time of the interview. But increased arrivals and overcrowding have resulted in transfers of these children to places outside of the protected areas. Others have been living in the open space with unrelated adult single men since their arrival.

There are no reliable estimates of the number of children who may be registered as adults but who haven’t been identified by nongovernmental groups or others or otherwise made themselves known to the authorities and are not receiving the special protection and care to which they are entitled under Greek and international law.

Anthi Karangeli, the director of RIS, confirmed that the lack of dedicated space on the island for age-disputed cases is problematic. “We can provide them with special treatment to the extent that space allows us,” she said.

“Samil,” from Afghanistan, said he was 14 when he arrived in Lesbos. He said he spent more than nine months living with the general population in the camp. At the time of the interview in May, it had been a month since he had been transferred, along with his 19-year-old brother, to the section for unaccompanied children inside Moria. He said his real age was formally recognized by the asylum service at the end of April:

I spent nine months in the tent…and now I’ve been one month here [section for unaccompanied children]…. When we were living in the tent [with adults], every day we were living in fear because of the many fights. Intense fear. I’ve been injured on my shoulder during a fight. Our tent was in the middle and it had been broken and burned twice…. I’ve reached a point where I harmed myself three times.

Recommendations

The Greek government should:

  • Ensure that there are sufficient and suitable alternatives to detention and end the unjustified detention of unaccompanied children, which deters children from registering as such;
  • Establish suitable separate reception facilities for young adults and age-disputed cases on the Greek islands and mainland Greece, and in the meantime, ensure that there are adequate and protected places in existing facilities;
  • Train RIS officers conducting initial screening and other officials, including Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office staff, and Greek Asylum Service officers, to correctly identify unaccompanied children, trafficking victims, and children with special protection needs, and to refer them to services as warranted;
  • Ensure that qualified interpreters assist unaccompanied migrant children;
  • Provide unaccompanied children who are illiterate with verbal and age-appropriate information about their rights and entitlements in Greece as children;
  • Ensure that all age determination procedures use a multidisciplinary approach that does not rely solely on appearance or medical or dental examinations. In the limited instances in which medical tests are carried out, use non-intrusive and non-invasive examinations to the extent possible;
  • In the case of uncertainty, give children whose age is disputed the benefit of the doubt and treat them as children;
  • Treat those with age assessment pending cases before the Greek Asylum Service as children, until their case has been finally resolved;
  • Re-examine cases of anyone assessed as an adult following inadequate and summary age determination procedures and until then, treat them as children;
  • Reform Greek law to ensure that anyone contesting designation as an adult has reasonable and adequate time to provide identification documents proving their age;
  • Provide free legal assistance for unaccompanied children, including those who claim to be under 18, in all administrative and judicial proceedings;

Expedite reunification processes for older children and, on an equitable basis, work with other EU member states to effect reunification in cases where the state’s delay has meant that children reach 18 during the process.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am