Calais Rights Watch

by megan-mm-howell in Calais

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Co-ordination of the effort to gather evidence of police brutality in the refugee camp, Calais

by megan-mm-howell in Calais

Having spent January volunteering in Calais with an aid organisation (I'm not going to mention them by name in case they have concerns about being connected with this project.  I do not wish to jeopardise their position in Calais), I witnessed first hand the utter disregard with which the refugees are treated by the French authorities - in collusion with the British - through their deployment of the CRS.

The CRS is a force of riot police.  It is officially a civilin force, but is organised like a military force with companies divided into platoons and commanding officers adopting military titles like Captain, Lieutenant and Brigadier.  An observer would be excused for mistaking them as a military force - especially an observer in Calais.  

The CRS are the only official force of law and order to be seen dealing with the refugee situation in Calais.  They are permanently deployed around the perimeter of the camp, at specific locations along the razor wire fence that surrounds both the port and the channel tunnel terminals and in and around the town generally. 

In my experience, they only have one method of engaging with the refugees - violence.  I witnessed several incidents during my month in Calais and on every occasion the CRS immediately reacted with violence and only violence.  When they are dealing with larger groups of refugees this violence usually takes the form of tear gas or rubber bullets.  Although all officers are armed with batons as well, it seems that these are generally reserved for use on individuals.

The use of the CRS to intimidate and oppress the refugees in Calais is utterly dehumanising.  This dehumanisation then allows politicians and hostile media outlets to portray the refugees as undesirables who should not be let into the cosy club of Europe.  This perpetuates their attempts to eneter the UK by stowing away on various forms of transport which again allows the politicians and media to portray them as undesirable and even criminal.

Some organisations in Calais have been gathering evidence of police brutality.  For example, some of the frontline medical services have been taking testimonies from the refugees and have been keeping records of the injuries they treat.  Whilst this is fantastic, it is an uncoordinated effort.  There are also thousands of volunteers and refugees who film and photograph incidents and this project proposes to bring all this evidence together in one secure online cloud storage facility with the hope that at some point, it will clearly document the human rights abuses taking place in Calais and may be able to contribute to legal proceedings in the future.

The main cost will be the subscritption fee for the secure storage.  As I don't know how much data I will receive, it's difficult to estimate how much this will cost so I am going to work with the figure of £10/month as this seems to be the average across a range of cloud storage providers.

I will be using cloud storage that is extremely secure and which encrypts the data that I store on it.  For security reasons, I am not going to disclose which service provider I have chosen to use.  I will be the only person with access to the cloud storage so I will set up a dedicated email address to which evidence can be sent.  From here it will be screened by legally trained volunteers - I'm rounding up solicitors as we speak - and the admissable pieces of evidence will be uploaded to the cloud.

The other cost, will be my forthcoming 2 week trip to Calais.  On this trip, I intend to brief the organisations, refugees and any independent volunteers about the project and encourage as many of them as possible to either share the evidence they have gathered or start gathering it and sharing it.  The briefing will include guidelines on gathering evidence appropriately and the distribution of template incident report forms. I only require funding to cover my personal expenses of food and petrol and any printing costs that I may incur. 

I will, myself, be briefed by a human rights lawyer before I go who has been, very kindly, advsing me on this project free of charge.

Now is a crucial time to make sure that we are gathering evidence corectly because the French authorities are in the process of clearing the camp - something we have heard that they aim to achieve by very early March.  So far this has not been a process that upholds the human rights of the refugees who live in he camp and many more violations are expected.


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