The Human Rights Watch (HWR) report “Subject to Whim: The Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the French Hautes-Alpes” finds that France continues its practices of flawed age assessment procedures and summary returns of unaccompanied children at the border to Italy. These breaches of EU and international law deny many children access to needed protection.

According to the report, examiners in the French region of Hautes-Alpes, who are in charge of certifying the status of an asylum seekers as a minor, do not comply with international standards and use various justifications to deny children protection. Research by HRW indicates that the flawed age assessment practice is common across the country.

Under French law, unaccompanied children are afforded special rights and should be taken into care by the child protection system, the Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance (ASE). According to international standards age assessment procedures for declared children should only be used as last resort and authorities should always give the benefit of the doubt if there is a reasonable possibility that the declared age is correct. HRW points out that the age examination process does not account for the traumatizing experience many of the children have undergone on their journey, which can have well-documented effects on memory, concentration, and emotional expression. As a consequence, children risk ending up on the streets or in shelters for adults and may lose their eligibility for regular immigration status if they turn 18 while awaiting review of their assessment.

The research also affirms previous reports of summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children by French border police at the border between Italy and France. In the nine cases examined by HRW French authorities did not comply with the “entry refusal” procedure specific for children. The threat of summary returns pushes children to take ever more dangerous routes across the Alps, increasing the number of injuries and other health risks.

HRW demands that “French authorities should reform age assessment procedures and practices to conform to international standards and ensure that children are not arbitrarily denied formal recognition and […] end summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children to Italy and instead immediately transfer them to the child welfare system for appropriate protection and care”.

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Photo: Human Rights Watch

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.