25 August 2016
The picture that heads this piece is one I took of the outside of the British Embassy, 35 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, Paris, just 20 mins ride away from where I spent 2 days earlier this week with the Refugees, living in squalor on the streets, from several different countries around the world - who have all fled from war, oppression and extreme violence.
I had an appointment with David Reed - The First Secretary, Justice and Home Affairs | Political Section | British Embassy - Paris.
I had 3 burning questions for him:-
1. What was/is being done to expedite the unaccompanied minors out of France to where they should be?
2. What is the policy about the unacceptable insidious violence, and possible consequences meeted out by the CRS in Calais, Dunkirk and now in Paris towards Refugees?
3. What is being done about the Refugees on the streets of Paris to help them?
These were the focus of my meeting - I first needed to find out what his role involved and if these points were relevant to his position in his job. It turned out that his role is heavily involved in the workings of Calais and Dunkirk.
He listened intently, while I told him of my personal experience of both Calais and Dunkirk.
1. I asked him what he knew of what was happening to the unaccompanied minors in Northern France and indeed in France in general. I gave the example of a brother and sister I knew of that had a mother in the UK and it took all of 8 months for them to be reunited, which in my view is putting the minors in a great deal of danger, and of course they were only 2 out of over 400 in danger then and I know it are more now (see below). Just a few have been processed but it is nowhere near fast enough.
He said that his office was engaging with helpful NGO’s such as Help Refugees and Citizens UK to reach quicker solutions to speed the minors away to safety. He told us he knew that more had been processed in the last 3 months at a greater speed because of necessary changes to the slow system. He also said that the English part was completed much quicker and it was the French red tape that was holding things up, but that it had got faster recently. Mr Read explained that there were, among the helpful meetings with recognised NGO’s, others purporting to be helping Refugees that had made their jobs much more difficult to complete.
2. I outlined a few instances involving, knives, batons and tear gas that I had witnessed myself. I told him of my sense of dread that the moral code of decency has been thrown out of the window, and it seems anything goes now, in terms of what is an acceptable level of violence/brutality dished out by the Robocops/CRS who masquarade at Police (who do have a moral code). I told him of my plea to the CRS line manager after a boy had been badly injured by a CRS employee, appealing for him to do something about the perpetrator - the answer was a shrug of those official shoulders - and looking straight into my eyes saying - “what do you want me to do about it”
I told him of the tear gassing of innocent women and children - directly into their tents, I told him of the ‘patting down” of an ordinary volunteer carried out with totally unnecessary force. I told of the indiscriminate water cannoning and tossing of tear gas into an otherwise calm scene. Where is the moral code of ethics the Police must adhere to?
He told me he was shocked at some of what I had told him - he told me that he knew there had been violence, as he knew of 6 cases brought against the CRS that had been proven about excessive use of force (aka violence - in my view), but he had no direct knowledge like the information I was giving him and he was taking note.
“What can we do to change it” I asked - “I fear the pendulum had swung too far” - I explained that I had stayed in the Formula 1 hotel outside Calais and been one of one 5 non CRS to be there - I told him it was a deeply unpleasant experience as the looks and the atmosphere in the hotel was one of simmering anger and displeasure - what a horrible job, I say to myself - away from your family - dealing with ‘criminals and terrorists’ (their words not mine) BUT does it have to be so horrible?
Why does one assume they are criminals and terrorists? because of the biased gutter Press.......because of the bile they feed the public, and MAYBE just MAYBE because they make it into a horrible job by criminalising them, forcing them into corners so they have to fight back to be heard ...
It is well known if you dish out gratuitous violence, at some point down the line, the victim will either collapse OR fight back.......that is human nature!
I was told by Mr Reed that since an article had emerged from Le Figaro written by a CRS officer complaining of what they had to deal with - the bar of acceptability of force used, had been raised - in other more simple terms - it seems they will turn a blind eye to what in our eyes is unacceptable force but because they say are having to deal with MORE force themselves to them IS acceptable.
I asked the question “do you not think violence breeds more violence”? Isn’t THAT the problem from the outset?
3. I told him of what I had seen the day before on the streets of Paris just down the road from where we sat - I told him exactly what I had been doing serving tea and biscuits to people who were hungry and stressed - I told him I was ashamed at the treatment they were getting from the brutal CRS each morning - herding the people onto buses, driving them away and THEN destroying everything they owned, - allowing women and small babies to be left to sleep on the street over night - night after night with no respite. I told him about the woman walking passed holding her nose saying “this is disgusting” along with other Parisians who look upon the people with distain and do nothing to try and help.
I told him that I do this work because I feel I MUST, because they are treated SO very badly in many 1st world countries in Europe.
I told him that I am appalled and disgusted at what I see...
I think he heard me. The question is will he do anything about it?
I told him the offices for processing were seldom open as the staff go on strike regularly. He was again unaware of the extent of the problem and again was shocked at what I told him.
His answer was that this was french Government policy and not his arena - I asked him if he would raise the points I had made at his next meeting - he promised to do that.
What is deeply worrying is that many people have commented over this last week and yet knew NOTHING about this situation - there are others like Christine Dolan who accompanied me to the meeting, who have been trying to help since Autumn last year along with other compassionate souls living and working in Paris. I have followed this for 9+ months now, my first trip there was in November 2015 to la Place de Republique on a medical mission, and many living and working in Paris appear to be totally unaware - could that be that they don’t like the “Noise of Injustice” and choose to hide their heads in sand?
Stop the world I want to get off..... PLEASE?.............. is it too late to go back to the beginning?
Is anyone listening?
I am completely ashamed of what we are allowing to happen all around us.
Sarah Griffith MBE
Founder of Bridge2