According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, which interviewed several victims and allegedly told the authorities about French minors, the French security forces are violating French and international law and are taking dozens of children to Italy every month.
The organization has assured the police that three of the returned children reported their ages – in some cases with documentary evidence – but the French agents tampered with the documents to suggest they were adults. Asif F., a 17-year-old Pakistani, claims the police gave 2000 as the date of his birth for being refused entry, despite declaring 2003.
HRW saw many of these forms, including those of two Sudanese children who reported they were 17 and 16 years old, but whose ages were reported to be 27 and 20, respectively.
Much of the return is focused on the passage between Menton and Ventimiglia, where the Gallic authorities transferred the migrants to the Saint-Louis Bridge to tell them to walk to the Italian border post. According to HRW, the French police have not told any of the children or adults interviewed that they have the right to apply for asylum.
The director of the NGO for France, Bénédicte Jeannerod, has warned that “the French border police have no legal power to decide who is under 18 and who is not,” and has called for “not to make hasty judgments on the basis of appearance or the mood “.
Instead of such processes, “the border police should refer young people to the child protection authorities for adequate care,” said Jeannerod, who has also warned of the “abusive” conditions under which migrants are detained in Menton. “They can be traumatizing for boys and girls,” he added.
People incarcerated overnight, including children, typically wait until the next day in one of three prefabricated units, each the size of a shipping container, before being returned to Italy. Children and adults say that in these cells they are often hungry and cold.
HRW has assured that there is no leeway to keep your distance in these enclaves where masks and other protective equipment are not provided to inmates. In addition, in some cases, respondents have given assurances that the police have not returned all of their belongings, including cell phones and even money.
French law allows a procedure known as “refusal of entry” in which border controls allow the immediate return of people arriving from Italy. France reintroduced these controls after the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
According to information from Italian groups, the French authorities in Ventimiglia denied daily access to 80 to 120 people, both adults and children, between July and the end of October 2020. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the number would have dropped to 50 to 70 per day in the following months, while more recently the numbers vary and there are days with more than a hundred expulsions.