Afghan migrant: I thought France was humane until police beat me

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks demonstrate to show their support for asylum seekers, and to denounce police violence and an unwelcoming policy towards migrants in France, after clashes sparked when French police cleared out a new migrant camp at Place de la Republique in Paris, France, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - Murtaza Khademi left his home in Afghanistan and smuggled himself into France because he thought he would be safe, but this week he encountered a different side of Europe: a police operation in which, he says, he was beaten with a truncheon.

"The police forces had no mercy. We thought they were humane people," he said on Tuesday night near a railway station in Paris where charities were distributing food. "They are not like that at all."

Khademi was among dozens of migrants and asylum seekers who had pitched pop-up tents on a central square in the city in an organised protest intended to attract attention to their precarious living conditions.

Police in riot gear moved in to disperse the protest on Monday night. Officers tussled with protesters as they tried to drag them out of the tents.

Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said some of the scenes were "shocking" and that officers who behaved unacceptably would be punished. Officials said though the protest was illegal so police were within their rights to disperse it.

Khademi, 27, said he was inside his tent when the police arrived and beat him with batons. He escaped, but said he left his belongings inside the tent, so now he had nothing.

From Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, he said he travelled through Pakistan, Iran, and the Balkans to reach France. He previously stayed at a migrant camp on the edge of Paris, but that was dispersed last week.

Now, he said, he moves around the streets looking for a place to bed down. Many ordinary French people were supportive, he said, but the police were hostile.

"I thought that France was a good place and that its people are European, and that's why we came here, but the immigrants were not well received," he said, speaking in Dari, one of the languages used in Afghanistan.

"We have no way back; we have to stay here and endure the situation because we have no other choice."

(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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