PARIS (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) pressed the French government on Wednesday to end what it described as police violence against migrants in the northern town of Calais, where hundreds have returned despite the demolition of a sprawling camp known as "the jungle".
In a report entitled "Like Living in Hell", the rights group said police "routinely" abused migrants in the hope of having them leave the coastal town.
Based on interviews conducted with some 60 migrants in the area, HRW said police had used pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they were sleeping, regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags and clothing, and sometimes destroyed food and water.
Officials at the interior ministry and the regional government could not be reached for comment.
"Such acts violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment as well as international standards on police conduct," HRW said.
"Local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to adhere to international standards on the use of force and to refrain from conduct that interferes with aid delivery," it said.
Aid agencies and government officials estimate there are as many as 600 migrants, fleeing war and poverty, in the northern port area, where a vast shanty town was brought down by authorities last October.
Drawn by the English language and, in some cases, by family and friends, they hope to reach Britain illegally.
"Since they destroyed the Calais camp last year, there is no place to sleep or eat. It's like living in hell," HRW quoted a 29-year-old Ethiopian national as saying.
The accusations of police misconduct echo what other migrants and local associations representatives told Reuters last month. The regional prefect and a police official had at the time formally denied any wrongdoing.
A local court in June ordered authorities to provide drinking water, toilets and showers to migrants and to allow charities to hand out meals. But at the same time it upheld government decisions to deploy extra riot police and not to build a new reception center.
New president Emmanuel Macron last month promised migrants would be treated humanely after France's human rights watchdog was fiercely critical of the living conditions they face.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Pritha Sarkar)