Calais residents who dare to help asylum seekers in northern France are being criminalised by the French authorities, according to the Kent Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers.
Since the Sangatte refugee camp was closed, just before Christmas 2002, French asylum support groups have tried to provide food and material support to asylum seekers in northern France.
But following a visit by colleagues this side of the channel, a number of allegations of ill-treatment have emerged:
- French police officers are, reportedly, arresting people who offer asylum seekers support, such as temporary accommodation in their homes. These people are then being accused of people-smuggling. Under French law, giving shelter to someone without papers (‘sans papiers’) is considered a serious offence with a maximum five-year jail sentence.
- When food is given out to destitute asylum seekers by support groups, the police are said to arrive and arrest any asylum seekers present. This means that support groups cannot assist asylum seekers without risking their arrest and intimidation by police officers.
- Members of refugee groups in France also claim that they have frequently witnessed refugees being beaten up by the police. In one case, two police officers allegedly held a refugee face down on the ground at the railway station and kicked him.
Down and out in Paris
In a separate development, the Red Cross in Paris is reporting that, since the closure of the Sangatte camp at Calais, many asylum seekers hoping to enter Britain are sleeping rough in a park near the Eurostar terminal in Paris. Up to 200 gather there daily.