Just as temperatures are dropping below freezing in France, police violence against migrants in Paris has intensified. Migrants are being forced to give up their blankets and quilts, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the local association P’tis déj à Flandres report. Sleeping bags are thrown into the trash, say P’tits Dej à Fandres volunteers, leaving people without any protection against below-zero night temperatures. Eight migrants have already been treated for hypothermia in two weeks, says MFS.

French riot police officer stands guard next to tents of a dismantled makeshift camp in a street near Stalingrad metro station, Paris, France, November 4, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

To make matters worse, police are using teargas against migrants and are even prohibiting them from sitting down during the interminable wait in line in front of a reception center that was recently opened by the Paris town hall, the associations charge.

Such police abuses against migrants would be as unacceptable as they are dangerous. These reports add to evidence collected by other actors, including Human Rights Watch, of police violence in Calais, including against unaccompanied children.

Migrants in the capital face a critical situation: the asylum system is overwhelmed, there are not enough places available in reception centers, and the police seems determined to prevent any semblance of new encampments on Paris streets. While the opening of a short-term reception center by the town hall is a step in the right direction, it falls short of meeting the needs of those in need. With only 400 beds, the center is full and dozens of migrants are forced to line up before dawn every day, amid glacial temperatures, in the hopes of finding shelter…that few will obtain.

The French interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, firmly rejected the charges of police harassment, instead deploring what he called the “national sport” of criticizing the police. But French authorities haven’t shown any intention to investigate allegations of what would be inhumane practices against already extremely vulnerable persons.

Increased capacity to register people at the Paris migrant center, announced by the local authorities, and the opening next week of a new temporary center dedicated to migrant families near Paris are positive steps. But they are not sufficient and certainly do not absolve French authorities of their duty to immediately put a stop to any inhumane responses to the migrants’ plight.