What is legal in the push-backs carried out directly on trains by French police? “Basically nothing,” says ASGI lawyer Anna Brambilla, who has long been following the situation at the French-Italian border: “The problem is a very complex one, and there are many violations.”
In Ventimiglia, every day hundreds of migrants try to cross the border between Italy and France by boarding trains directed to Menton. After the border, French police searches the coaches, looking for groups of foreigners – a task for which it also sought the help of French railway company SNCF. All migrants so discovered are apprehended, forced to get off at the next stop, taken to the opposing platform, and sent back to Italy, indiscriminately and with no assessment of their situation. Many of them, as documented in the Fanpage.it video, are minors, who claim to have tried to cross the border in this way a number of times.
Amnesty International France also denounced this situation. “The vast majority of people checked upon at the border are deprived of any possibility to exercise their rights, in particular that to seek asylum,” says Jean-François Dubost, who coordinated a monitoring mission on behalf of the NGO. He also pointed out that “children are pushed back on the same basis of adults, hastily, without any possibility to exercise their rights, and without even being accompanied” by an adult.
“The second time I tried to cross the border by train they identified me, I think at the Menton station, and made me get off the train. No one issued me any document, but they registered my name, my nationality and my date of birth. After that, I was put on a train to Ventimiglia. When I tried to cross the border again on foot, by following the railway tracks, the police re-arrested me and took me back to Ventimiglia”, Madou, a citizen of Guinea, told Amnesty France.
What is legal in these push-backs carried out directly on trains by French police? “Basically nothing,” says ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration) lawyer Anna Brambilla, who has long been following the situation at the French-Italian border. “Italy and France are applying at their common border a bilateral agreement on cross-border cooperation”, signed in Chambery in 1997. The readmission of adult migrants is usually based on this kind of agreements, “and occurs in what is an essentially simplified manner: French authorities are supposed to ask their Italian counterparts to readmit persons travelling from Italy, and return them to the police.” Since in the push-back practice Italian authorities are not involved at any stage, this is per se a violation of the agreement.
When it comes to children, the situation becomes even more complex: “Bilateral agreements such as the Chambery one – Brambilla explains – do not make a distinction between minors and adults, and therefore French authorities readmit minors to Italy in the same way. The problem is that agreements such as Chambery should no longer apply, because they are prior to the Dublin treaty or the Schengen Borders Code. “The Dublin Convention, in particular, forbids the push-back of minors, especially if they have applied for asylum. As stated in an ASGI report in Ventimiglia, it is “plausible to believe that the French gendarmerie does not accept applications for international protection, so that it can apply the above mentioned agreement. For the same reasons, it is plausible to assume that the gendarmerie treats some unaccompanied minors as adults, or that it considers them as accompanied after an impromptu entrustment to an adult or to a child considered as an adult. ” To work around both Dublin and the handover to the Italian authorities, Brambilla adds, police “takes minors off the train at Gravon and then puts them on a train in the opposite direction.”
Those occurring between Italy and France are “essentially collective expulsions, because there is no assessment of each person’s individual situation. They are a violation by France, which ratified ECHR Protocol” number 4, specifically prohibiting them, says Brambilla. Among other things, Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “every person whose rights and freedoms recognized in this Convention are violated shall have the right to an effective remedy before a national authority, even when the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.” In the case of push-back on trains, this is not upheld, because very often foreigners are not even put in a position to understand what the authorities are doing: there are no interpreters, mediators, lawyers. The right to an appeal is de facto denied.
In any case, as the ASGI lawyer points out, let us not forget that there are violations by the Italians too: “There is a fundamental problem with adequate information, access to relocation procedures, and provisions regarding foreign minors. A striking aspect is that we are predominantly talking about Eritrean minors, a national group who would be entitled to relocation. Among other things, there is a lack of adequate reception facilities for children at the Italian border. So the problem is really complex, and there are many violations.”
Italian text available here
Translated by Alberto Pasquero