PARIS (Reuters) - France has instructed local officials to show more humanity toward migrants, the government spokesman said on Thursday, after a human rights watchdog said it bore responsibility for the inhuman conditions migrants face in the Calais region.
About 400 migrants from the Middle East and Africa have returned to the northern French port city where the last government sent in bulldozers to clear a migrant camp known as The Jungle in November 2016.
“Prefects have given instructions for more flexibility to be shown, in particular for more humanity to be shown,” government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
“We cannot treat women and men as if they are just numbers.”
Castaner said that reforming France’s asylum process was a priority for new President Emmanuel Macron.
The Jungle camp, where thousands of migrants hoping to reach Britain lived in squalid conditions, came to symbolize Europe’s difficulty in dealing with an ongoing migrant crisis.
Former president Francois Hollande’s Socialist government ordered the camp’s destruction under pressure from locals who blamed the migrants for rising crime, turning a deaf ear to charities that warned the migrants would recongregate.
Jacques Toubon, who heads France’s public human rights watchdog, met with Macron this week. On Thursday, he pressed the government to ensure that migrants in Calais have access to clean water and that charities can distribute food.
“The government’s determination not to see migrants back in Calais ... seems to result in everything being done to prevent the migrants from settling: tents and shelter are not tolerated, people — including minors — are sleeping on the ground,” Toubon said in findings published on Thursday.
Earlier this month, two French charities accused police of using excessive force against migrants and preventing aid groups from distributing meals.
Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have converged on the port city over the past decade, hoping to find a way of getting across the Channel to Britain.
Most attempt to climb onto trucks or trains using the Channel Tunnel. Police have had to be deployed permanently in the area.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb will visit Calais on Friday, three days after a van driver was killed when he crashed into a tail-back on a motorway outside Calais where migrants had blocked the way with tree trunks.
Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Catherine Evans