Friday, July 28, 2017

Migrants in France Say Police Abuse Is Common - The New York Times

PARIS — New allegations of routine police harassment of migrants in Calais surfaced Wednesday in a report detailing officers’ nearly daily use of pepper spray as well as limited access to food and the destruction of migrant shelters.
Human rights workers and around 60 migrants, nearly half under 18, told Human Rights Watch of daily identity checks, shortened hours for aid agencies to distribute food and unsanitary conditions caused by a lack of toilets and water.
They also accused officers of using pepper spray with abandon.
“There’s nowhere else that I can think of where I’ve encountered to this extent the use of pepper spray on people who were sleeping and especially on sleeping children,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel to the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
The report documented many complaints about the treatment of migrants that have arisen since the razing of “the Jungle,” an area in Calais where 6,000 to 10,000 migrants, many from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere, were living in often squalid surroundings. It was dismantled in October and the migrants were bused to other places around France.
Despite efforts to discourage them, migrants still travel in large numbers to Calais, an English Channel city, hopeful that despite many new safeguards intended to stop them from boarding trucks or the Eurostar train bound for England, they will be among the lucky ones to make it to better lives. While they wait, they camp outdoors in scattered groups, sleeping in the underbrush and under highway bridges. There are now an estimated 400 to 500 migrants in the Calais area and perhaps more, Mr. Bochenek said.
Continue reading the main story
Calais’s prefecture, the local government that oversees the police, disputed their depiction in the Human Rights Watch report and said the allegations that the police “gratuitously and systematically” used pepper spray were “calumnious.”
“The police in Calais work, as they do elsewhere in France, within a legal framework which allows them to conduct identity checks,” Fabien Sudry, prefect of the department of Pas-de-Calais, said in a statement. “In keeping with the prosecutor’s mandate, they can disperse groups and unauthorized gatherings and they can remove people who are in France illegally.”
Mr. Sudry said the police were also permitted to stop migrants from boarding the Eurostar train or from entering Calais’s port area. There have been 17,867 attempts so far this year, he said.


A police officer confronted migrants in Calais in June. CreditPhilippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Sudry said his office had received only three complaints about police conduct since the end of 2016, and he encouraged people who believe their rights have been violated to file complaints. Migrants living in insecure circumstances rarely have the wherewithal or the necessary language skills to do so, however, suggesting that number of formal complaints is not an accurate indicator of police abuse.
Migrants and aid workers complain that the police often take an aggressive stance toward migrants without provocation. Of the 61 migrants interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report, 57 said they had been hit with pepper spray at some point; 55 said they had been sprayed in the last two weeks. A day after being sprayed, aid workers say, children still suffer eye problems.
A 17-year-old identified in the report as Moti W., an Oromo from Ethiopia, told the rights group’s researchers: “This morning I was sleeping under the bridge. The police came. They sprayed all over our face, hair, eyes, clothes, sleeping bag, food. Many people were sleeping then. The police sprayed everything.”
It is also routine for the police to confiscate sleeping bags and extra clothes and to disrupt food distributions, especially those that occur at night, Mr. Bochenek said.
Pierre Henry, the director general of France Terre d’Asile, an aid organization that helps migrants applying for asylum, denounced the abuse. “Nothing justifies such degrading treatment,” he said.
Mr. Henry said the government should make a coordinated effort to handle the migrant influx, rather than relying on the police. More welcome centers are needed where migrants can stay, bathe and eat safely and apply for asylum, he said.
A government proposal would create more lodgings for people seeking asylum and greatly speed up the application process. But it would also hasten expulsion of those found not to have met France’s asylum requirements.
France’s ombudsman for human rights, Jacques Toubon, said the plan did not go far enough. Like Mr. Henry, he recommended that the government open many more welcome centers to process the thousands who are arriving in France.
“When you ask the police to manage migration problems and you don’t offer all the responses possible to permit the migrants to have their rights, you have difficulties,” Mr. Henry said. From a police perspective, he said, the only solution is “dispersing the migrants.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ethiopia's Oromo people are protesting new taxes in the Oromia region — Quartz

Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia

 Quartz Africa
A new tax levied by authorities on small businesses and vendors has reportedly led to protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia region with the military and police deployed to bring the situation under control. The tax hike is being imposed on businesses with an annual turnover of up to 100,000 birr ($4,300), as part of a new government proposal to boost the tax base and raise much-needed government revenue.
Residents in Ambo city in Oromia damaged two state-owned vehicles, according to Addis Standard newspaper, while businesses in Woliso town shut their businesses in protest. The paper also quoted state officials saying that even though the situation was currently under control, there were plans for region-wide protests.
Like many sub Saharan Africa countries, tax collection in Ethiopia is still a low share of GDP when compared with the average for OECD countries of around 34%. Just 15.2% of Ethiopia GDP was generated by tax revenue as of 2015, according to the World Bank. Last year, a World Bank survey also showed that 54% of businesses thought the process of complying with taxation was more burdensome than the amount of due tax itself.
The new reports from Oromia are significant given that it was the genesis of anti-government protests that hit the country in Nov. 2015. The demonstrations initially began in response to the government’s master plan which sought to expand the capital Addis Ababa into neighboring towns and villages inhabited by the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group. The Oromo said the plan would displace farmers and stymie the growth of their culture and identity.
For Oromos, who make up at least a third of the population, they believe the federal capital, which they call Finfinne, belongs to Oromia. They recount a long history of grievance which casts Oromos as colonial subjects violently displaced from their land and alienated from their culture.
The Ethiopian government reacted with force to the protests, leading to the death of 669 protesters, according to a government-mandated investigation. Last October, the government also declared a still-ongoing state of emergency, shut down the mobile internet, and banned the use of social media networks to document the unrest.
Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

EU parliament probe Ethiopia for human rights investigation 39 signed

A new letter signed by 39 members of the European Union Parliament asks for a full inquiry into human rights violations in Ethiopia, while calling into question the accuracy and impartiality of a controversial report completed by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in April.
The letter to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, notes Ethiopia’s steadfast refusal to permit an independent investigation into human rights violations since the 2016 protests began, primarily among the Oromo people.
“We believe that an independent investigation would shed light on the real number of casualties and the extent of the military pressure,” the MP letter issued on Friday said. “The Ethiopian government must be held accountable for its human rights violations, and all those detained for exercising their legitimate freedom of expression must be released.”
In addition to specific concerns about systematic sexual violence committed against women and girls in the Oromo and Ogadeni communities, the letter recalls the detention of British citizen Andy Tsege, an Ethiopian rights activist facing a death sentence who was abducted and taken to Ethiopia in 2014.
“The European Union is a major partner for Ethiopia and among the most important donors of foreign aid to the country,” the letter concludes. “As a leader on human rights in the world, the EU should more publicly share its concerns regarding the fulfilment by Ethiopia of its human rights obligations, and act accordingly.”
Ethiopia remains under a state of emergency following a four-month extension of the decision made last October immediately after the Irreecha Festival crisis. The emergency declaration expires at the end of July unless the Ethiopian parliament approves another extension.