More than 200 unaccompanied migrant children are homeless and sleep on the streets every night in Paris, this is according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on July 4. The report, “Like a Lottery: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris,” found that children are denied protection, food, shelter and basic rights. This is largely a consequence of flawed age assessment procedures and a lack of political will.
In recent years, the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as France in general, has increased. In 2017, the French child welfare system supported more than 25,000 unaccompanied children, a significant increase of 92 percent from the previous year. Almost half of these children seek protection in Paris. These minors are mostly teenage boys fleeing persecution and war in countries, including Guinea, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal.
French law states that unaccompanied minors should be cared for by the authorities. However, the authorities deny that many of these children are under the age of 18. There are cases of children not being recognized as minors, instead, they are classified as adults. They are denied recognition as children because they lack official identity documentation. Often children who request protection from the child welfare system and legal recognition of their age are rejected based on their appearance. Others may receive a short interview which is insufficient in determining their age, followed by denial. Therefore, they are ineligible for emergency shelter, education and other protection provided by the state. These procedures violate French law and international standards.
Flawed age assessment procedures are inadequate and exclude children from accessing the welfare system. This is reiterated by Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch who said, “These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need. Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”
Without aid from the government or child welfare system, ordinary French citizens have intervened to meet the needs of these children; they have provided food, as well as organizing activities such as football and theatre, and some have provided accommodation. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56 also provide services, however, they are reliant on volunteers and cannot meet the demand.
The French government has the necessary means and the obligation to provide adequate care and protection for all children within French territory, regardless of migration status or documentation. The government must abolish the arbitrary age assessments and provide accommodation and sufficient resources to meet the needs of unaccompanied minors; at present their rights are being undermined and violated. The authorities should only proceed with age assessments if they have legitimate doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18. International standards recommend that age and eligibility should be determined by interviews conducted by professionals experienced with children. A fair hearing must be given to ensure children’s rights to special protection and assistance are granted.