Calais NGOs accuse police of intimidating volunteers

Screen grab of a video sent by "L'Auberge des migrants" showing a riot police officer shoving a volunteer who had been filming the police.
Screen grab of a video sent by "L'Auberge des migrants" showing a riot police officer shoving a volunteer who had been filming the police.

Eight different organisations that assist migrants in the French port cities of Calais and Dunkirk published a report on August 8 denouncing the police violence and intimidation that they have experienced. The president of one of these organisations told the France 24 Observers about the frequent altercations between police and volunteers, which the activists sometimes manage to catch on camera.

The associations reported 646 incidents, including both verbal and physical abuse and threats by police, between November 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018. The report included testimonies from 33 different volunteers.

The organisations said that they had already tried to file complaints with the IGPN (the French body tasked with policing the police), but that, each time, their complaints had been shelved.

Even after the Calais “jungle” – a giant migrant camp – was dismantled in October 2016, the city remains a point of passage for the hundreds of migrants who are seeking any way possible to get to the United Kingdom.

Video filmed by volunteers from the organisation "L'Auberge des migrants" in Calais during a police operation. An officer pushes a volunteer, who falls to the ground.

“As soon as we start filming, the police start threatening us”

Gaël Manzi is the president of the organisation Utopia 56. He works in Calais. Manzi says that the police try to prevent volunteers from documenting the police violence towards migrants.

There are several organisations which, like us, work on the ground in Calais. Here at Utopia 56, our mission is to give out food and clothing but also to help people get the medical care that they need. We transport people to the hospital and also make sure that underage migrants are housed when the state-run shelters are full, which happens often.

The police have always tried to hinder our activities, especially when we hand out food, clothing and blankets. The police started coming to carry out identity checks on the migrants right before these distributions to try to dissuade them from coming. Since then, the Lille tribunal has ruled in our favour and we can continue with our distributions.

However, we go beyond just handing out food. On the ground, we make sure to document police interventions that can turn violent. That makes the riot police angry. They try to stop us from filming. Often, they will stop us and pat us down. Sometimes they push us to the ground.

Video sent by the organisation "L'Auberge des Migrants", one of the organisations that participated in the report.


Though it is legal to film the police in France, there are several videos that show police officers preventing volunteers from filming, either by ordering them to stop or by intervening with force.


Video sent by the organisation "L'Auberge des Migrants", one of the organisations that participated in the report.

In this video, volunteers ask an officer from the riot police his identification number. Police officers have been required to wear these numbers, known as a RIO, since 2014. In response, the officer says “DTC”, which, in French slang, is used to mean “up yours”.


“They're looking for trouble”


As soon as we start to film, the police start intimidating us. They're looking for trouble: if we are in a car, they start checking to make sure that every tiny detail is up to code, even if, usually, officers let these things slide. They also film us and take photos of us during our actions to help migrants. We suspect that they are creating files on certain volunteers.

A few weeks ago, I saw police officers stop a migrant and I got my phone out to film what was going on. When they saw me, a few of the officers came over. They brought me to their van, where they carried out an identity check and a very intense search of my person. Not a single one of them was wearing a RIO number. When they let me leave, they followed me in a vehicle for about 20 minutes.

The only way that we can protect ourselves from police violence is to be very careful to remain within the limits of the law [Editor’s note: in these videos, the volunteers constantly remind the police officers that they have the right to film]. But it is important to remember that even if we are complaining about these practices, it’s nothing compared to what the migrants are dealing with.


The police prefecture and the Calais city government both deny the accusations made by the organisations assisting migrants. The police prefecture also refuted an earlier report published by Human Rights Watch, which denounced police violence against migrants in Calais. The prefecture said the report was full of “lying and slanderous allegations”.

Article by Sarra Grira.