50 French detention center staff take sick leave to protest new arrivals, working conditions

50 French detention center staff take sick leave to protest new arrivals, working conditions
Several dozen policemen at a migrant detention center in a Paris suburb have taken sick leave in protest at the opening of a new unit at the facility. Officers say they are incapable of “adequately dealing” with the detainees due to staff shortages.

The protest, involving about 50 of the 80 policemen working at the detention center in Vincennes, in the eastern suburbs of Paris, could last until the end of the week, Le Parisien reports. The center accepts foreigners who have been denied the opportunity to stay in France by the authorities.

A new building is set to open at the facility on October 31, and will accommodate 60 people. 

“In the absence of staff, we are already incapable of dealing adequately with the 160 to 170 people who are permanently based at the facility,” an official told the newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The officers believe that understaffing is likely to affect the functioning of the center. "The detainees are aware of it, so they do what they want. For example, they smoke wherever they want. How can you do anything when there are only two people to manage a whole building?"

Another issue is that the center is in a “shabby state” and is suffering an infestation of rodents, according to the official. The authorities tried to remove the rats at the beginning of the year, apparently without success. “It's not easy to go to work when you know you'll be coming across rats on duty.”

Meanwhile, the state-run Prefecture of Police told Le Parisien that “there was never a question of opening additional units at the administrative detention center of Vincennes without the necessary staff.”

Additional civil servants are expected to be assigned by the end of the year, with authorities saying they “won’t activate” the 60 additional places until more personnel arrive. “Concerning the building conditions, maintenance works are in progress,” they added.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that France has a major role to play in resettling refugees and managing migration flows in Europe. Grandi said the UNHCR is backing France in its efforts to “lead Europe towards a more supportive approach to manage refugees who are at Europe’s external borders.” 

The northern French town of Calais was home to ‘the Jungle’, one of the most notorious refugee camps in Europe, which was evacuated last year. About 5,500 of its residents were sent to various housing facilities across France. In May, some 1,600 migrants were evacuated from a refugee camp on the outskirts of Paris near Porte de la Chapelle.

The refugees were mainly from Africa and Afghanistan, the Paris prefecture said, as cited by AFP. The migrants’ “illicit encampments” posed “significant risks to the safety and health of their occupants and residents,” the prefectures and police of Ile-de-France said in a joint statement. In addition, a rivalry between the Afghan and Sudanese inhabitants of the makeshift camp seemed to be emerging, causing further tensions. One violent row in mid-April led to several casualties.