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“Empty the Jungle”: Are French detention centres abusing migrants’ human rights?

Migrant retention procedures in France are costly, cruel, and “do not conform to the law”, according to a French human rights agency.

The population of migrants in Calais has doubled in the last month, now totaling at least 6,000. Adeline Hazan, director of the CGLPL (Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté), says that the situation has become “extremely difficult to control, both for the migrants and the public”.

CGLPL, an independent agency founded by the French parliament in 2007, is responsible for checking that all people in France who are deprived of liberty are afforded their human rights. The agency held a press conference this month in which they declared that the “current procedures of migrant dispersal do not conform to the law”.

La Cimade, a French organization dedicated to defending the rights of migrants, found this week that since 21 October, 1,039 refugees have been arrested in the Calais region. The migrants are then transported, by private plane or bus, to Administrative Retention Centres (CRAs) across France. According to the Ministry of the Interior’s webpage, these centres are designed to “retain foreigners subject to deportation for a limited period”.

However, a recent investigation conducted by the CGLPL discovered that the centres have been “misappropriated” since the migrant crisis began, and are being used primarily as a bureaucratic dispersal technique in order to “empty the Jungle” and “unclog Calais”.

The dispersal process begins when refugees in and around the so-called Jungle are arrested either when attempting to enter the Eurotunnel, or when they cannot produce their required ID papers. Though there is a retention centre in Coquilles, less than 15 minutes away by car (which the CGLPL investigation found was “never full”), migrants are instead sent to CRAs up to 1,000km away.

The refugees are retained for a maximum of five days. Though the purpose of the CRAs is to obtain the necessary paperwork to return illegally-landed migrants to their country of origin, 96 per cent of the refugees have been released into whatever town they ended up in, thus obliging them to make their way back to Calais on their own. 

Before the crisis, the national CRAs were “rarely full,” says Hazan, who estimates the capacity never surpassed 60 per cent. Now, the CRAs outside of Calais often go beyond the legal maximum capacity. The situation in these centres is “shocking”: on-site investigations revealed that there are often 13 people in shared cells of 11 square metres, not enough blankets for everyone, and limited access to bathroom facilities.

Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior, released a statement saying that in a high-stakes migratory situation “the likes of which have never been seen before”, the state is responding in “a rational manner”, and using the CRAs according to their “national purpose”. Cazeneuve continues that this is a “global and coordinated response to a situation that poses serious difficulties”. 

Nisar Ahmed, a 22-year-old refugee from Nangarhar in Afghanistan, was arrested in November and flown on “a private plane” to a CRA in Nimes. “They say that we need to call it a retention centre, not a detention centre, but in fact it’s a prison. It’s exactly like a prison,” says Ahmed.

According to documents available online, the Ministry of the Interior signed an annual contract in October 2014 for the “provision of a transport aircraft exclusively for the needs of the national police and of foreigners in France”. The private jets continue to be used to fly refugees to more remote CRAs, like Marseille and Toulouse. The annual price of the aircraft is €1.5m, a cost that is financed by the state.

The CGLPL urgently recommends that this dispersal technique be stopped, as it is infringing on human rights. When asked what the recommended way of dealing with the situation was, Hazan responded:

“I’m not the minister of the interior so I can’t say what they should do. Our job is to make sure that the government’s actions are in line with humanitarian requirements.”

When discussing the staggering cost of this national dispersal operation, she simply declared that “the cost is not our concern – liberty has no price”.

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French presidential election: Macron and Le Pen projected to reach run-off

The centrist former economy minister and the far-right leader are set to contest the run-off on May 7.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the run-off of the French presidential election, according to the first official projection of the first round result.

Macron, the maverick former economy minister running under the banner of his centrist En Marche! movement, is projected to finish first with an estimated 23.7 per cent of the vote, putting him marginally ahead of Le Pen. The leader of the far-right Front National is estimated to have won 21.7 per cent, with the scandal-hit Republican Francois Fillon and leftwing Jean-Luc Melenchon tied for third on an estimated 19.5 per cent each. Benoit Hamon, of the governing socialist party, is set to finish a distant fourth on just 6.2 per cent. Pollsters Ifop project a turnout of around 81 per cent, slightly up on 2012.

Macron and Le Pen will now likely advance to the run-off on May 7. Recent polling has consistently indicated that Macron, who at 39 would be the youngest candidate ever to win the French presidency, would likely beat Le Pen with around 60 per cent of the vote to her 40. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement he told AFP that his En Marche! were "turning a page in French political history", and went on to say his candidacy has fundamentally realigned French politics. "To all those who have accompanied me since April 2016, in founding and bringing En Marche! to life, I would like to say this," he told supporters. "In the space of a year, we have changed the face of French political life."

Le Pen similarly hailed a "historic" result. In a speech peppered with anti-establishment rhetoric, she said: "The first step that should lead the French people to the l’Elysée has been taken. This is a historic result.

"It is also an act of French pride, the act of a people lifting their heads. It will have escaped no one that the system tried by every means possible to stifle the great political debate that must now take place. The French people now have a very simple choice: either we continue on the path to complete deregulation, or you choose France.

"You now have the chance to choose real change. This is what I propose: real change. It is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave. Because yes, I am the candidate of the people."

The projected result means the run-off will be contested by two candidates outside of the France's establishment left and right parties for the first time in French political history. Should Le Pen advance to the second round as projected it will mark only the second time a candidate from her party will have reached the run-off. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reached the second round in 2002, but was decisively beaten by Jacques Chirac after left-wingers and other mainstream voters coalesced in a so-called front républicain to defeat the far-right.

Fillon has conceded defeat and backed Macron, as have Hamon and French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve. "We have to choose what is best for our country," Fillon said. "Abstention is not in my genes, above all when an extremist party is close to power. The Front National is well known for its violence and its intolerance, and its programme would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos.

"Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children."

Though Hamon acknowledged the favourite - a former investment banker - was no left-winger, he said: "I make a distinction between a political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

Melenchon, however, has refused to endorse Macron, and urged voters to consult their own consciences ahead of next month's run-off.

The announcement sparked ugly scenes in Paris' Place de la Bastille, where riot police have deployed tear gas on crowds gathered to protest Le Pen's second-place finish. Reaction from the markets was decidedly warmer: the Euro hit a five-month high after the projection was announced.

Now read Pauline Bock on the candidate most likely to win, and the NS' profiles of Macron and Le Pen.


Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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