Court orders France to improve living conditions for migrants

Only months after the demolition of 'the Jungle,' a migrant camp near Calais, France, watchdog groups have demanded that the migrants have access to drinking water and bathroom facilities.

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters/File
A migrant carries his belongings as he leaves the Calais 'Jungle' in France on Oct. 22, 2016, just days before the migrant camp was demolished.

The French government will provide water and sanitation to migrants in Calais and open two reception centers away from the city, it said hours after a court ordered it to end what it called inhumane treatment of foreigners trying to get to Britain.

Less than a year after "the Jungle," a vast shanty town next to the northern port city, was razed, migrants have returned, with charities and the national human rights watchdog fiercely critical of the squalid conditions they live in.

Interior minister Gerard Collomb said there were about 350-400 migrants around Calais, compared with the estimated 10,000 who used to live in the Jungle. The two new centers to house them will be in Bailleul and Troisvaux, about an hour's drive inland.

"We don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past but we also want to handle the problems in Calais," Mr. Collomb said, indicating a determination to avoid providing facilities that could draw migrants to the town, making it once more a hub for those trying to reach Britain.

Access to water, showers, and toilets will be provided in the Calais area via mobile facilities, Collomb said.

Earlier on Monday, France's top administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, ruled that the treatment of migrants was unlawful.

"The Conseil d'Etat considers that these living conditions reveal a failure by the public authorities that has exposed these people to inhuman or degrading treatment," it said in a statement.

"These shortcomings are a serious and unlawful infringement on a fundamental freedom."

It said a lower court was within its rights to order the provision of toilets, drinking water, and showers.

France has avoided the brunt of Europe's migrant crisis, receiving a fraction of the asylum seekers handled by Italy or Germany.

While President Emmanuel Macron has called for migrants to be treated with dignity, his government has refused to open a new reception center in Calais, saying it would act as a magnet for migrants.

Last week, Human Rights Watch pressed France to end what it described as recurrent police violence against migrants in Calais. Collomb said there would be an investigation into police behavior.

The European Union is struggling to find a coherent answer to a migration crisis that has tested cooperation between member states. Mr. Macron has instructed his government to speed up France's asylum process.

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