Migrants, journalists and civil society activists suffered disproportionate use of police force

Article originally published by French by Liberation on 23 November 2020.

With the help of associations and lawyers, the Place de la République had been occupied by exiles left homeless after the closure of the Saint-Denis camp. The forces of law and order violently evacuated the camp within the hour .

The equipment – tents and blankets – had only lasted a little over an hour before being ransacked by the forces of law and order on Place de la République. Under the helpless eye of dozens of elected representatives, lawyers and journalists, all taken to task during an evening marked by violence in the heart of Paris. Videos and images of police officers shaking tents to make their occupants – exiles deprived of accommodation – fall down, unjustified tripping and bludgeoning even led the interior minister to react at the end of the evening, this time giving credit to filmed images of a police operation in the midst of a controversial proposal for a law for global security.

“Certain images of the dispersal of the illegal migrant camp on Place de la République are shocking. I have just requested a detailed report on the reality of the facts from the Prefect of Police by noon tomorrow. I will take decisions as soon as I receive it,” said the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

‘Lamentable show’

Article originally published by Euractiv on 25 November 2020.

“They are too violent,” said Shahbuddin, a 34-year-old Afghan, crying after being evicted. “We just want a roof.”

Police later used tear gas and rough tactics, with videos posted on social media showing one officer tripping a man as he ran, and another officer slamming into a man who tried to intervene.

The controversy comes a week after migrants were evacuated from makeshift shelters in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, including some who were not provided with alternative shelter. “The state has made a lamentable show,” Ian Brossat, a Paris deputy mayor in charge of housing, told AFP.

CFDT trade union chief Laurent Berger told France 2 TV that the actions of the police were “scandalous and astounding.”

“People occupy a square peacefully with tents, simply because they have a housing problem, they are not harming anyone. And there is this intervention which is totally disproportionate,” he said.

After receiving a report from Paris police chief Didier Lallement confirming “several unacceptable facts”, Darmanin — who had earlier described some of the images of the camp’s removal as “shocking” — said that the IGPN would submit its findings within 48 hours. Paris prosecutors meanwhile opened a criminal probe into alleged use of violence by a person in authority after images posted on social media showed one policeman tripping up a migrant as he ran away.

LDH: “The worst thing is not the images, it is the night that has once again swallowed the exiles outdoors”

Joint press release originally published in French by la Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) and 19 CSOs on 24 November 2020

The worst thing is that the 400 exiled people present, at 7pm, Place de la République, will sleep outside again tonight, far away in Clichy, far away in Saint-Denis, hidden under the bridges of the canals or elsewhere, invisible. The worst thing is that once again, we will not see them fall asleep wounded in the cold.

No, the dreadful thing didn’t happen when the police took the exiles out, at 8 pm, of the tents that the Utopia association had set up on the Place de la République [1]. The police began to throw away several hundred tents they had bought that weekend for shelter. The abandoned bodies of the exiles, taken out by force, the light fabrics flying through the air from hand to hand in police hands, the soon-to-be-torn canvases, the tired faces of all of them… We were only there at the beginning.

Nor was it the worst when lawyers from Droits d’urgence, the Bus de la solidarité, the National Bar Council, pleaded unsuccessfully with the police to avoid police charges. Like all exiled people, they were charged by the Wilson and Utopia associations and the Human Rights League (LDH). It was 9 p.m., Place de la République, and the three successive police charges were still not the worst against this makeshift camp and its defenders such as the associations and collectives Utopia, LDH, Solidarité Migrants Wilson.

Once again, elected representatives of the Republic, the tricolour scarf in front of the tents, protecting the exiles and supporters, were pushed around for no reason. Nor was it the impotence of the elected representatives in the face of the police force that was the most traumatic this evening. No, the greatest anger was not the organised and violent dismantling of the pacifist chains of men and women, the associations and collectives of the LDH, Utopia, Médecin du Monde, elected representatives and lawyers. The police waves broke these chains of solidarity; we were only at the beginning.

Later, elected representatives, exiled people, associations, hunted in the streets of Paris, it wasn’t the worst for tonight, despite the bludgeon blows for those who didn’t run fast enough, despite the resignation that won all hearts in the face of the lack of accommodation solutions that some elected representatives proposed to the Paris prefecture. From 9 pm to 1 am, this long race strewn with police charges, LBD shootings, de-enclement grenades, thousands of police forces squaring the space for two hundred people, this long absurd march, without coherence or respect for rights, was not the saddest this night.

The worst is not the shocking, horrible and unworthy images, the videos of exiled people being chased, journalists trampled on by the police or elected representatives mistreated. These images, which will circulate in the coming days in all the media and associative networks, do not show the real horror.

The worst has happened: they will remain outside tonight. This is madness.

And in the nights to come, they will be there or will come back, others will be added, that is the unspeakable. As long as this inconsistent cycle of botched evacuations continues, as long as legislative provisions do not allow every asylum seeker, refugee or undocumented immigrant, without distinction, access to dignified accommodation, as long as state funds are insufficient to create genuine reception places, the system will continue despite the violent outbursts of one night. From Calais to Paris, to La Roya, the same methods are gradually taking hold throughout the country.

The State’s biggest mistake was finally farther away, deeper. Beyond the flouting of international and French law, it is the destruction of hope that creeps into our hearts. Hope for a better life after persecuted lives, hope to have here an unalterable, simple and necessary right, to obtain protection: a reception, a roof and an asylum procedure that respects rights.

We were under the statue of the Republic, demanding the application of the principles of republican law. All we saw was an outburst of useless violence, without accommodation solutions for these 400 exiled people.

The statue did not react last night, it remained alone on the empty square, crying for its rights, once again trampled on.