Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

  • The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold
  • Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium

GRANDE-SYNTHE, France: French police began clearing around 1,000 migrants from a gymnasium near the northern port of Dunkirk on Thursday after a court ruled it was a health and security hazard.
The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold.
Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium where around 170 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds hoping to reach Britain, had been sheltering.
Thursday’s clearance operation began shortly after 8:00 am (0600 GMT).
Young men traveling alone were the first to board buses that will take them to shelters around the region, where they can apply for asylum.
Families were to be moved later.
Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain in the tens of thousands of trucks and cars that travel daily between the countries on ferries and trains.
The area around Grande-Synthe has traditionally drawn Iraqi Kurds and has been repeatedly cleared in recent years.
A court in the regional city of Lille ordered the gymnasium shut on September 4 following complaints from local authorities and residents about violence, garbage and the presence of people-smugglers among the migrants.
French authorities have had a policy of trying to prevent migrants forming camps since 2016 when they razed a notorious illegal squat nicknamed the “Jungle” near the port of Calais which was home to 10,000 people at its height.
But rights groups have criticized police tactics.
In December, the country’s human rights ombudsman denounced the “extreme destitution” suffered by people camping out or sleeping under bridges in the area.
The ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, accused the authorities of “trying to make (migrants) invisible” by regularly tearing down their camps without providing them with viable alternatives.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to speed up the asylum claims process for people deemed to be bona fide refugees, while vowing to accelerate the deportation procedure for so-called economic migrants.


Bangladeshi courts freeing child suspects due to virus risk

Updated 27 sec ago

Bangladeshi courts freeing child suspects due to virus risk

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh have been releasing hundreds of children suspected of committing mostly petty crimes as they try to keep the coronavirus from spreading in overcrowded detention centers, officials said Friday.
The orders for their release on bail came from virtual courts set up by the country’s Supreme Court with the help of UNICEF, officials said.
About 400 children have been granted bail in recent weeks and more than 300 of them have already been reunited with their families, said Natalie McCauley, chief of child protection at UNICEF in Bangladesh.
She said the decision came as public health experts said children living in the country’s detention centers face a higher risk of getting infected, mainly because of overcrowding and poor conditions.
Bangladesh has a protracted system of delivering justice, with some cases for petty crimes taking years to conclude. According to UNICEF, some 23,000 cases involving children under 18 are currently pending with courts across the country.
Saifur Rahman, a special officer of the Supreme Court and additional district judge who is involved with the release program, said the program was crucial as with inadequate staff and utilities in detention centers, it was extremely difficult to minimize the risk of infection from COVID-19.
“In all fairness, maintaining social and physical distancing is next to impossible in such a situation,” he said.
Mohammed Rakib, 15, was accused of beating a man in Dhaka nearly two months ago. A judge from a regular court denied him bail and he was eventually sent to an overcrowded detention center just outside Dhaka that UNICEF says houses nearly 700 children even though it has the capacity for about 300.
Late last month he was finally granted bail through the new virtual court.
“It feels great to be freed and get united with my parents,” Rakib told The Associated Press on Friday. “I am very happy. I have suffered in the jail a lot. That’s a bad place.”
The reunion was special for Rakib and his family as they were able to celebrate the end of Ramadan together.
“His mother burst into tears after seeing our youngest son,” said his father Mohammed Abdul Hakim. “It was a moment of joy. We love him a lot.”
On Friday, the total number of COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh stood at 60,391, with 811 deaths. Public health experts say the actual number of the infected people is likely much higher.