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French police caught on video beating migrants

Screengrab from YouTube video posted by activist group Calais Migrant Solidarity

Disturbing footage of police brutality against migrants surfaced online over the weekend, with a video showing how officers beat, chased and allegedly tear-gassed refugees in the city of Calais as they tried to climb onto trucks headed for Britain.

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The two-minute video, uploaded by the activist group Calais Migrant Solidarity (CMS) on Sunday, showed several sequences of CRS riot police violently pulling and kicking migrants to prevent them from hiding on trucks bound, via ferry, for the UK. At one point, officers are also seen spraying migrants by the roadside with what appears to be teargas.

The video was filmed in the northern port city on May 5, a day after French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the city to urge refugees to seek asylum in France, describing the country’s migrant policies as “humane”.

“At eight o’clock the morning after, these officers [still] allow themselves to do this because they feel protected,” one of the association’s members, who only identified himself as Léo, was quoted as telling the AFP news agency.

According to the group, the police brutality shown in the video is something the migrants -- who live in temporary camps lacking both water and toilets on the outskirts of the city -- experience every day.

Calais has become a hub for thousands of desperate migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, who have come to Europe seeking a better life. Many try to make it to Britain because they have friends or family there, already speak the language or because the British asylum process is considered to be faster than in France.

'Any violation will be punished'

According to a source cited by AFP, the French police special investigations unit is now looking into the incidents shown in the video, adding that “any violation of the rules will be punished".

Meanwhile, Ludovic Hochart, a spokesman for the Unsa-police union, questioned the way the video had been edited.

“These are snippets,” he said, noting the entirety of the events would be needed in order to judge if the officers were in fact responding to attacks.

But, Hochard said: “If these are cases of gratuitous violence, they must be punished.”

Truck drivers face fines

In January, international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report accusing French police of routinely abusing migrants in Calais. The report was based on interviews with dozens of migrants.

“They spray you (with pepper-spray) like you’re an insect. It’s happened to all of us in the street,” one of the interviewees told HRW.

Migrant attempts to smuggle themselves onto the UK-bound trucks is not only extremely dangerous -- many have fallen off or been killed -- but also carries a risk of steep fines for truck drivers: up to £2,000 (€2,700) for every migrant that a driver knowingly or unknowingly transports across the Channel.

Many drivers are now calling for greater security measures.

The CMS group did not immediately return calls from FRANCE 24 seeking comment.

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