Have some French border police officers (PAF) decided to assume the right to decide the fate of migrants wishing to apply for asylum in France? To shed light on the responsibilities of each one involved, a preliminary investigation was opened on Monday, February 4 by investigators in Nice.
France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur reported that the offenses were allegedly committed at the Franco-Italian border at Menton.
Jean-Michel Prêtre, prosecutor of Nice, announced the news during his monthly meeting with the press.
Last November Prêtre was approached by the League of Human Rights, the syndicate of French lawyers and three elected officials, including two ecologists. The matter was a document of twenty pages compiled by the group, which revealed three cases of forgery in writing by the police, done on purpose so as to return minors to Italy.
The drafters of the text reported “arbitrary detention” of minors during “several hours, sometimes up to ten or eleven hours” on the premises of the police.
Already in March 2017, the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes Georges-Francois Leclerc and his staff had suffered the wrath of administrative justice for the expeditious return of migrants to Italy, in violation of the right of asylum then in force.
“We take special care to respect the law,” retorted the prefect, denying the allegations that the police were guilty of procedural flaws, and said they were overwhelmed by the number of cases to be treated.
Although France is able to return migrants to Italy under the terms of a 1997 agreement, NGOs complain that unaccompanied minors are also turned away. In February last year, a judge in Nice noted that 19 unaccompanied minors had been illegally returned to Italy, and he ordered the police to comply.
French authorities often falsely increase the ages of incoming migrants on their documents and still send them back to Italy, according to human rights activists.
Since 2016, the prefecture reported a hundred arrests every day, although the figures slightly decreased in 2018. More than 10 000 migrants were sent back between January and May last year. Between July 2017 and April 2018, Catholic charity Caritas counted at least 16 475 people in the Italian town of Ventimiglia waiting to cross into France. One in four were unaccompanied minors.
In 2017, France received 14 percent of the EU 200 000 new asylum applications, and Italy received 20 percent; only Germany processed more asylum applicants.
Under the Dublin Regulation, migrants must file their asylum claim in the EU country where they were first registered. It is abbreviated as “Dubliné” in French and “Dublinato” in Italian. Thus, being “Dublined” is mostly only a temporary setback for migrants, because there is little incentive for them to stay in Italy.
Those denied entry typically walk back the short distance to Ventimiglia where they just can catch another train to France and try again. “I’m already thinking about the next place I’ll hide,” Mohammed Yaugoub Ali, 19, from Sudan, told The Washington Post.
But an Oxfam report titled Nowhere But Out, accused the French authorities at the border of “abuse” because they were discovered cutting of the soles of migrants’ shoes and falsifiying of dates of birth.
The practice was condemned by a French court earlier but appears to be continuing.
When French President Macron described anti-immigration parties in Europe as a “leprosy”, Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio responded by saying that the “real leprosy is the hypocrisy of someone who pushes back immigrants at Ventimiglia”.
“Mr. Macron has closed his border — totally,” Andrea Spinosi, a top official in Ventimiglia and member of the League party, a partner in Italy’s governing coalition, told the Post. “All these migrants, they all want to go to France,” Spinosi explained. “And France dares to say we are the racist ones.”
Residents of Ventimiglia complain that businesses have closed and housing prices have crashed, while official data suggests that voter support for the Matteo Salvini’s League has risen more than tenfold, to 30 percent, over the past five years.
In Menton, mayor Jean-Claude Guibal, who has been mayor since 1989, noted that since 2015, support for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in the area has also grown significantly.