NGO workers assisting migrants regularly harassed by police

Association

A report released at the beginning of August 2018 by Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Refugee InfoBus warns of police intimidation and harassment of aid workers assisting refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Between 1st November 2017 and 1st July 2018, they report “645 incidents of police surveillance, repeated ID checks, stop and searches, physical and verbal violence". According to the report, NGO workers were also "forcibly prevented from administering aid to refugees in desperate need of shelter, food and water”.

Thirty-seven cases of physical violence and 104 instances of verbal abuse were also reported. According to the four organisations, the police used threats, fines and searches to impede NGO workers from bringing food and assistance to the refugees. Women were particularly targeted by these measures: 87 percent of body searches were carried out on women, even though women NGO workers make up just over half of all people involved in this work.

For over two decades, many migrants have passed through the North of France while attempting to reach the United Kingdom. Close to the port town of Calais, residents of the "Calais Jungle" migrant camp were evicted by French authorities in October 2016, after the population had risen sharply during the peak of the "migrant crisis" in Europe. Despite the evictions, hundreds of migrants are still displaced in the area and live in conditions that were defined earlier this year as "inhumane"’ by three UN human rights experts: LĂ©o Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Felipe GonzĂĄlez Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Their statement says:

“Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing, education, healthcare, water and sanitation as well as access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”

Maddy Allen, Field Manager for Help Refugees in Northern France, says

“The scale and frequency of police harassment in Northern France is completely unjustifiable. Police forces, the very people employed by the State to provide safety and uphold the law, are violating human rights on a daily basis. The intimidation volunteers experience whilst working in Calais halts our daily operations and increases the distress and emotional toil of the situation for all those involved.

We will not stand by and accept these conditions. The aggression we experience is a fraction of the violence experienced by refugees living in Calais. We call for the French police to be held accountable for their actions and refrain from operating ‘above’ the law. We must be able to continue our work here, calmly and safely, in complete solidarity with the communities we support.”

The CIVICUS Monitor had already reported “tougher conditions for those working with migrants and refugees” as a result of a security-first approach to migration.

Constitutional Council recognises humanitarian help and solidarity as legitimate

On 6th July 2018, the Constitutional Council in France confirmed that fraternity is a core constitutional principle. According to the ruling, “helping others, even illegitimately present on the national territory, is legitimate".

The ruling came about through an appeal by Cedric Herrou, an olive farmer and immigration activist. Herrou became the symbol of "criminalisation of solidarity" after he was sentenced to four months in prison for hosting about two hundred migrants in his home. The case also concerned Pierre-Alain Mannoni, a teacher and researcher, who was sentenced to two months’ in prison for facilitating migrants to remain in France.

The ruling drew on Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the preamble to the French Constitution and Article 72-3 of the Constitution.

Welcoming the ruling, French rights group, La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, stated

“Recalling that fraternity is not just a word but a legal reality, the Constitutional Council comforts those who try to bring it to life for migrants. LDH welcomes this reminder and hopes that the government, the prosecution and the courts will abide by the letter and the spirit of this decision by ceasing to wrongfully prosecute those men and women who implement the principle of solidarity." (translated from French)
NGOs condemn controversial statements on rescue mission by President Emmanuel Macron

At the end of June 2018, President Emmanuel Macron accused the NGO Lifeline of violating the authority of the Libyan Coast Guard by rescuing 233 migrants, thus playing “the game of the smugglers”. Macron said: 

"We cannot accept this situation permanently because in the name of humanitarian aid it means that there is no longer any control. In the end, we play into the hands of the smugglers by reducing the cost of the passage for the smugglers. It's a terrible cynicism." (translated from French).

A subsequent clarification of these remarks by government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux stressed that France "welcomes the work of NGOs" but this must "be done in accordance with international law". However, civil society and international organisations have warned that Libya is not a safe port due to the violation of human rights to which migrants are exposed.

Amnesty International France, La Cimade, MĂ©decins du Monde and MĂ©decins sans FrontiĂšres stated that Macron is causing “unprecedented damage to the action of civil society” with his declaration which "marks a further step in the cynicism and hypocrisy of French but also European migration policy". The statement continues:

"By promoting the refoulement and detention in Libya of thousands of people who have endured months or even years of deprivation, extortion and torture, the President of the Republic denies the fundamental values of humanitarian law." (translated from French)

According to the organisations, this is yet another example of the criminalisation of solidarity.

Peaceful Assembly

On 18th July 2018, an investigation by Le Monde newspaper identified Alexandre Benalla, who was part of President Emmanuel Macron's security staff during his 2017 election campaign, as the man filmed using violence against a May Day protestor while wearing a police uniform. Following this revelation, the Public SĂ©nat channel also declared to have reported to Macron's En Marche party that Benalla also violently pushed and grabbed a journalist during a public event 1st March 2017. Four investigations have been opened into the conduct of Benalla and another member of the party: one criminal investigation, two by parliamentary committees and one internal police investigation.

La Ligue des droits de l’homme commented

“The violent intervention, outside any legal framework, of a collaborator of the President of the Republic during a demonstration, the refusal to bring the matter before the courts and the succession of revelations that highlight the desire to conceal these facts raise serious concerns. [...] Trust in the State and its law enforcement agencies require transparency, exemplarity and punishment. The Republic can only be "irreproachable" and "inalterable" if those in charge of the regular functioning of the institutions respect its spirit and letter."(Translated from French)

Expression

On 30th July, the law on business secrecy was promulgated by the President of the Republic, after it was reviewed by the Constitutional Council. As the CIVICUS Monitor reported in May, the law had been harshly criticised by CSOs, academia and most journalists' unions as a breach of freedom of expression and information. According to the law's critics, the definition of “business secrets” is too broad, creating the possibility that individuals holding information deemed sensitive could be prosecuted, even if such information were in the public interest.

More than 120 French MPs and senators, fifty civil society organisations, trade unions and journalists’ societies appealed to the Constitutional Council to scrutinise the law's constitutionality. They expressed concern over the “serious, excessive and unjustified interference with freedom of expression and information”. In its decision, the Constitutional Council stressed its limited competence to exercise its control over this type of text, including a possible infringement of freedom of expression and information.