The French authorities introduced measures at its borders with Italy and Spain to prevent arrivals including the use of drones, renewed control checks and pushbacks – described by NGOs as “violations of fundamental rights”. The European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned France for the 11th time for “inhuman and degrading treatment” of migrant children. French police evict migrant camps amid increased attacks by far-right groups.

The French authorities have introduced various measures to curb the crossings from Italy to the country following the increased arrivals in Italy that resulted in tensions between the neighbouring countries. After intensifying control checks along migratory routes and trains and increased deployment of police officers along the border with Italy, France has approved the use of drones at the Italian-French border to track migrants. Authorities claim “It is materially impossible to prevent people from crossing the border irregularly without using drones”. The Italian border guard said that “Reinforcing controls and sealing off the border will not solve the basic problems” further stating “Without a European policy for the distribution of flows, migrants will continue to come, to be turned back, to try their luck again and to take risks”. Giulia Berberi from Doctors of the World expresses concerns as “The border has been producing a worrying humanitarian situation for people in transit for the past eight years”. Since 2015, at least 42 people have lost their lives while crossing the dangerous Italian-French border. On 8 May, a group of migrants suffering from hypothermia were rescued in the Piemonte Alps near the border with France. Moreover, France has enhanced surveillance at its borders with Spain amid an ongoing renewal of border checks which are justified by a variety of new reasoning – fighting terrorism, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. This system put in place in the name of the fight against terrorism “generates, in fact, the multiplication of discriminatory checks on people who have rights”, Émilie Pesselier, coordinator for NGO Anafe told Info Migrants. “It is clearly to fight against illegal immigration: only blacks are constantly checked by the police”, said Lucie Bortaitu, from the NGO Diakité. Five NGOs in a statement said that the multiplication of “discriminatory” controls, “expedited returns” and illegal refoulement are “violations of fundamental rights” – similar to what France applies at its border with Italy. “At the Franco-Spanish border, these checks affect racialised people in a discriminatory manner, and lead to the deportation of many people without respect for their fundamental rights, in violation of national, European and international legislation,” the statement of the five NGOs reads.

The European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned France for the 11th time for “inhuman and degrading treatment” of migrant children. The ruling published on 4 May concerns two separate but similar cases. In the first case, a mother and her son aged seven and a half months were kept in a closed center for nine days while awaiting their Dublin transfer to Spain, and in the second case, a mother with her three children 8 months, 6 and 13 years old were placed in administrative detention before their transfer to Portugal. Meanwhile, France is pushing back unaccompanied minor migrants at the Italian border at Ventimiglia. French authorities “are no longer able to absorb unaccompanied minors into their reception system and so have started to send them back to Italy, something they should not do according to the regulations in place. … They are obliged to take care of them,” said Sergio Di Dato, the head of the Médecins Sans Frontières MSF mobile clinic assisting migrants in transit between Italy and France. Besides, hundreds of unaccompanied child migrants took over a disused school in the 16th arrondissement of Paris a month ago, protesting the government’s approach of leaving them out in the street and calling for a proper accommodation. On 16 May, a far-right group named the “natives” went in front of the school to threaten the vulnerable children and call for their expulsion. Utopia 56 said that the government “let that happen”, adding that “This violence is above all the result of a hateful and defamatory campaign by certain far-right media and personalities”. The anti-migrant hatred also reached the mayor of a small French town, Yannick Morez, whose home was set on fire by far-right groups for planning to open a reception centre for asylum seekers in his town, forcing him to resign over repeated far-right threats and fear of more attacks. Morez has long called for protection from the state with no response. French President Emmanuel Macron described the attack as “outrageous” and expressed “solidarity” with him, his family and his village. “It’s good to support verbally once the mayor has resigned, it would have been even better to ensure that an elected representative of the Republic is protected when he (the mayor) had launched the alert in this direction on many occasions!” (translated), activist Hadrien MKdR commented.

Evictions of migrant camps by French police continue. On 4 May, the police with at least 20 vans evacuated a migrant camp near Dunkirk where at least 300 people on the move reside. The camp has been moved across three different municipalities due to repeated evictions which only add to the “precariousness” of the camp’s residents. The place was “neither equipped nor secure” and “no association mandated by the State intervened there”, but it was “the only one available”, said Amélie Moyart from Utopia 56. Afterwards, the municipality stated that “219 people have accepted shelter” while Utopia 56 reportedly heard police officers saying to migrants “If you don’t get on the bus, you will be arrested”. On 10 May, the police evicted another migrant camp in the northeast of Paris where 335 people were living. A number of people who were left out without accommodation demonstrated in front of the Paris City Hall to demand shelter and the response was “repressive arrests” during which “families were separated”. Info Migrants wrote: “From now on, each camp, even minimal, is automatically dismantled. Every evening, the migrants hide from the police and install a piece of cardboard in an isolated place, to avoid being dislodged in the night. Tents, previously more or less tolerated, are now systematically removed from public spaces. Minors are also targeted.”

Meanwhile, the immigration law, which aims to facilitate the regularisation of undocumented workers, but also to strengthen the possibilities of expulsions and deportations and to raise the requirements for proficiency in French to obtain a multi-year residence permit, is back on the agenda after being suspended, postponed and rescheduled multiple times. Minister Gérald Darmanin is now on a mission to “lead consultations and build a majority” in order to finalise the text of the law before the summer.

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