PARIS (AFP) - France's prisons watchdog condemned the government on Wednesday for locking up migrants in a bid to clear the notorious camp known as "the Jungle" near Calais.
In a strongly-worded statement to the government, the head of the official CGLPL jails watchdog Adeline Hazan said authorities must stop "abusing" rules on migrant detention, saying there had been "serious breaches of fundamental rights".
Since October the police had been taking people "to detention centres not to organise their deportation... but solely to empty Calais camp," she claimed.
"This is an abuse of the procedures and it should be ended," she said in a rare emergency recommendation to the government.
Hazan claimed officials "knew from the start" that they would not deport those being rounded up, and that the new strong-arm methods began after Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the camp on October 21 and doubled the number of police.
Cazeneuve denied any wrong-doing in a written reply and said the detentions were a temporary response to "unprecedented migratory pressure".
He said the authorities "intended to deport all the foreigners placed in detention" and judicial procedures had been followed.
Hazan told reporters that groups of 50 migrants were being regularly taken from "the Jungle" and locked up in centres around France, but only around two percent were then deported.
Cimade, one of the NGOs working in the squalid camp near the northern French port, said 700 people were picked up from their makeshift shelters and taken to detention centres in one week in November.
The population of the camp - a former dump branded a "shameful... state-sanctioned shanty town" by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) - has fallen from a peak of 6,000 in October to an estimated 4,500.
Every night hundreds of refugees still risk their lives trying to reach Britain though authorities claim only a tiny number now succeed.
Some attempt to scale the triple line of fences around the heavily-guarded Channel Tunnel entrance or smuggle themselves on to lorries near the Calais ferry terminal.
Seventeen have died trying to reach the UK from the camp since June, according to an AFP count.
"This migration crisis is complex to manage but we cannot accept that it will be at the cost of fundamental rights," Hazan said.
Her intervention came two weeks after France's highest administrative court criticised the treatment of migrants in the "the Jungle", saying the government had an obligation to provide basic sanitary facilities.
Part of the camp is now being cleared to put up weatherproof tents for 1,500 people.
Hazan said she would continue to sound the alarm if the transfers did not stop.
She also criticised the "undignified and overcrowded conditions" in the detention centre closest to Calais, and claimed three minors had been separated from members of their family there.
Cazeneuve said there was no proof that the adults in question were the minors' parents.