France is no exception to receiving the influx of migrants like the rest of Europe. However, recent reports have revealed that French border police authorities have been rejecting unaccompanied migrant children who have dared dangerous mountain trips from Italy to France.
Rigorous age evaluations and interviews have been conducted. These children claim they present their real identification documents (national identity cards), but the authorities insist they are lying. Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch has decried “Child protection should not be a matter of caprice. Age assessments should afford children a fair process, not look for excuses to deny them protection.” According to French law, age assessment is conducted for unaccompanied children when they are taken into care by the child protection system (Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance). But international standards insist age assessment should be last resort and only in cases where there are serious doubts about a person’s declared age and documentary evidence is lacking.
Border police in France’s Hautes-Alpes department have summarily returned children, instead of referring them to protection services, Human Rights Watch found. These accounts are consistent with reports from nongovernmental organizations, lawyers, and volunteer groups. In HRW’s reports, 17-year-old Amadin N. from Benin recounted: “I showed my papers that said that I was a minor, but the police didn’t want to hear it.” Worse still, French police have continued to harass and sometimes instigate the prosecution of people around the mountain areas who try to help migrants in distress. These charges are contrary to the constitution. The July 2018 court ruling explained it was not illegal to help others in need.
Helping people in need remains a common human duty for every everywhere. However, it has been very complex for people and rights groups like French Defenders of Rights to continue rescuing and supporting these migrant children. They have in some cases been compelled to serious car inspections, or legal claims with the authorities. This is because they carried out rescue missions around the mountain roads to assist migrant children. Most of them arrive wounded, sick, traumatized and helpless, French Defenders of Rights reported.
Amnesty International’s Human Rights Defenders Researcher, Lisa Maracani, corroborated with disappointment by saying: “Providing food to the hungry and warmth to the homeless have become increasingly risky activities in northern France, as the authorities regularly target people offering help to migrants and refugees.” One humanitarian worker told Amnesty International that she was violently pushed to the ground and choked by police in June 2018 after she had filmed four officers chasing a foreign national in Calais. An Amnesty International worker Loan Torondel working in Calais added: “I feel that I am caught between the acute needs of people I am trying to help and the intimidation of French authorities who are trying to hamper humanitarian activities and label our activities as crimes…”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur Léo Heller remarked, “Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing, education, healthcare, water and sanitation as well as access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”
The French government needs to enact policies strict and just assessment of minor migrants when they go to France. Above all, aid and rights defenders should not be prosecuted, threatened or harassed for offering humanitarian assistance.