NGOs alert French prosecutor over 'illegal detention' at French-Italian border

By agency reporter
July 18, 2019

Migrants, including children, at the French-Italian border have been illegally detained and pushed back to Italy by French border guards, says a coalition of French human rights and humanitarian organisations, including Oxfam. The coalition has submitted 13 testimonies of fundamental rights abuses to the French prosecutor in Nice and to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

The testimonies gathered by Oxfam and other NGOs working at the French-Italian border document how people have been repeatedly and unlawfully deprived of their liberty before being sent back to Italy.

They reveal how, every evening, people are detained overnight in containers attached to the police station of the French border town of Menton. At times, dozens of people are crammed into the 15 meter-square containers without beds and often, without access to food. In many cases, they are held more than four hours – the maximum duration of detention that has been ruled “reasonable” by France’s Council of State, which is the French supreme court for administrative justice.

Alpha, a 17-year old teenager from Nigeria, told how he was held with around 10 adults in a container without functioning toilets for more than 10 hours on the night of 27 May 2019. He says he told officials several times that he was underage and that he was planning to apply for asylum in France, but alleges this request was not registered.

Further testimonies confirm that minors are regularly detained together with adults, and that women are not always detained separately to men. Marie from Côte d’Ivoire says she was detained overnight on 6 June for 11.5 hours with a women and two unknown men, without being informed why she had been held or how long she would be held for.

Adama from Senegal testified that he was detained in a container overnight on 15 June 2019 for more than nine hours. He alleges he asked for a doctor several times to check an injury sustained during his arrest, but that he did not receive any treatment before being sent back to Italy.

These and other testimonies have been submitted to the prosecutor in Nice who opened an investigation into alleged abuse by French police in November 2018 – although no changes in administrative or police procedures have been made to date. The submission should be considered as part of this investigation.

The coalition is also calling on the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, to investigate the abuses documented in the testimonies. They draw the rapporteur’s attention to the repeated instances of arbitrary detention, the fact that migrants have not been able to ask for asylum in France, as well as France’s failure to protect children and to respect legal guarantees during pushbacks to Italy. They also call on the rapporteur to issue recommendations to the French government to ensure it respects the fundamental rights of men, women and children at the French-Italian border.

All names in testimonies have been changed to protect the identity of the witnesses. 

* Oxfam International


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