Police in Paris teargassing and 'stealing blankets from migrants', charity warns
VON PRESS Europe: Research exclusively published by The Independent shows that men, women and children are being beaten and tear gassed by officers in the French capital, despite government pledges to shelter vulnerable people.
Eritrean families said they were told to "get out of France" as police tore away children's blankets, leaving them without protection in the bitter temperatures plummeting to -7C.
Natalie Stanton, deputy director of the Refugee Rights Data Project, said researchers were confronted by "alarming" scenes in the La Chapelle, where authorities have launched numerous clearance operations in recent months.
"While we were there we witnessed the police taking people's belongings - some in the night, some in the daytime - it's quite a visible phenomenon," she added.
"The same night the government announced a plan to keep everyone warm, we witnessed police picking up blankets and putting them in a big rubbish bin on the back of a truck, then driving away."
Almost two thirds of homeless refugees interviewed said they had been woken up and forced to move, with 54 per cent describing the experience as "violent" and saying they were afraid, having been given no reason for the intervention.
According to one young Afghan man: "If we question them or say we have nowhere to go, they bring out the tear gas."
Around 37 per cent of respondents said they had experienced other forms of police violence in Paris, including physical beatings and verbal abuse, while a third had sleeping bags, tents, blankets, clothes and other belongings taken by police or other rough sleepers.
Their experience is far from the impression projected by the French government, which unveiled a nationwide plan to get homeless people off the streets for their own health and safety while the research was being carried out.
Bruno Le Roux, the interior minister, admitted it was "difficult" to find all migrants shelter but refuted reports of police brutality and harassment.
"What the police force is doing today is providing shelter for vulnerable people," he said in January.
Refugees in Paris sleep every night in the rain and cold with temperatures dipping below 0 degrees
Homeless people and concerned members of the public were directed to call the 115 hotline to be given shelter, but only a handful of migrants interviewed by the Refugee Rights Data Project were able to get through.
A woman who had been in Paris for a month on her own said: "I live on the streets and have no protection at all. I called 115 three times and they never showed up.
More than half of the refugees interviewed said they were suffering from health problems - including a man who was back on the streets just a day after having his appendix removed - and others suffering from diabetes and mental illness.
Some of those interviewed had been living in the French capital for several months, including around a quarter who previously spent time in the Calais "Jungle" and camps in Dunkirk, which were forcibly cleared by authorities.
Paris opened its first humanitarian center in November after the closure of a large makeshift camp displaced thousands of migrants, but the facility has been overwhelmed and authorities ploughed ahead with a zero tolerance policy for roadside shelters.
Around three quarters of all migrants interviewed wanted to stay in France, and under 30 per cent were hoping to reach the UK.
The Refugee Rights Data Project is calling for "sustainable" efforts by the French government to help get migrants off the streets and combat the "chronic absence of asylum information" leaving the majority unaware of their rights or obligations.
The charity also called for the British Government to "step up and fulfil its moral obligations".
Researchers interviewed more than 340 refugees and displaced people sleeping rough in the La Chapelle district of Paris between the 18 and 22 January for the report.
The majority of respondents were from Afghanistan, followed by Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and other mainly African countries.