Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants are crowded together on deck of the rescue ship "Eleonore" as it seaches for a safe port in the Mediterranean. The "Eleonore" took in the migrants on August 26, 2019 off the Libyan coast, as their boat was sinking.

© 2019 Johannes Filous/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Italy’s new coalition government, fragile as it may be, presents a chance for the country to move away from migration policies that put lives at risk and back to those grounded in respect for human rights, including the right to life.

The new Five Star Movement-Democratic Party government should seek to undo the damage done by anti-immigrant and anti-rescue decrees introduced by outgoing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The decrees should be revoked, not simply tweaked, as the coalition has suggested, and the government can rebuild policies from a clean slate.

The first decree, from late 2018, effectively abolished humanitarian visas that allow people who experienced extreme hardship and abuse to remain in Italy, leading to an increase in the number of people without legal status, according to a study. It also downgraded the care asylum seekers receive and increased the amount of time people can be detained pending deportation.

The second decree, which became law in early August, formalized the outgoing government’s “closed ports” policy, which barred rescue ships from entering Italian territorial waters. Ships that violated the decree could face fines of up to €1 million and seizure of the ship. This has left rescued people stranded on boats for weeks and deterred life-saving rescue efforts.

Just as the new coalition partners were finalizing their pact, authorities have seized the ships of two rescue NGOs, and one is facing a €300,000 fine for rescuing people at sea and making sure they were disembarked in a safe place.

Salvini didn’t push through these shameful policies on his own. The Five Star Movement was a willing, at times enthusiastic, partner. When it governed under the previous legislature, the Democratic Party took steps to undermine NGO rescues and led the way on greater cooperation with Libyan authorities despite the overwhelming evidence of brutality against migrants and asylum seekers there. Both parties should break with the past and set Italy on a new rights-based course.

Italy is right to call for and expect more European cooperation in the Central Mediterranean, and European Union governments should agree on a serious relocation mechanism. Italy can and should lead the way to more humane polices, on land and at sea.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Unaccompanied children arriving in France’s Alpine region undergo flawed age assessment procedures that deny many access to needed protection.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Joshua F. left his home in Cameroon with his younger sister in 2016, when he was 13, after their parents died in an accident. His father’s family took the house and his father’s workshop, turning the two children out. They left Douala and travelled to Yaoundé, where they lived on the streets for a time until a man offered Joshua a carpentry job in northern Cameroon. In fact, the man took them to Chad and forced them to work long hours without pay in his home.

Joshua and his sister were then abducted and taken to Libya. There, he told Human Rights Watch, they were held by smugglers. “I was the victim of slavery,” he said, describing long days of forced labour in fields and on construction sites. The men who held him and his sister beat them and demanded that they contact their family to arrange a ransom payment. After he repeatedly told the men they had nobody they could call, one of the men killed his sister in front of him.

After he had been in Libya for about a year, once he had worked long enough that the men considered his ransom paid, they took him to the beach to join a large group boarding a Zodiac, a large inflatable boat. The men forced as many as possible onto the boat, at one point firing guns at the water near the group. After several days at sea, a ship rescued the group and took them to Italy.

Joshua had sustained injuries from the forced labour and beatings he endured in Libya, and when he arrived in Italy, he asked reception center staff to see a doctor. But he never received medical care while he was in Italy. He was also not able to attend school.

After six months, he decided to leave Italy. He travelled to Claviere, a village in the Alps on the French-Italian border, and tried to enter France on five successive nights. On his first four attempts, border police sent him back to Italy after he told them his age and tried to explain his situation, even though by law they should have accepted his declared age and, under the procedures the border police director described to Human Rights Watch, should have referred him to child protection authorities.

On his fifth attempt, police let him continue into France. They did not contact child welfare services; instead, he and another boy walked all night to reach the town of Briançon. Volunteers at a shelter there gave him first aid and arranged for his transport to the departmental capital, Gap, where unaccompanied children undergo age assessments to determine whether they will be taken into care.

In Gap, he received a negative age assessment for reasons he still does not understand. “There were things written there I did not say,” he told us. With the aid of lawyers, he asked the juvenile judge to review the negative age assessment and was expecting a ruling in mid-September 2019.

Like Joshua, many children decide to leave Italy and travel to France because they have not received access to education or adequate health care in Italy. The perception of hostility on the part of the Italian government and the general public is also a significant factor in unaccompanied children’s decisions to leave Italy.

Unaccompanied migrant children who travel from Italy to France’s Hautes-Alpes Department may, in violation of French law and child rights protection norms, be summarily returned to Italy by French authorities. To avoid apprehension and summary return by border police, many children cross the border at night, hiking high into the mountains far off established trails.

Video

France: Immigrant Children Being Denied Protection

Unaccompanied children arriving in France’s Alpine region undergo flawed age assessment procedures that deny many access to needed protection.

Even in the height of the summer, in July and August, it is cold in the mountains, and it is easy to get lost in the dark. Children described walking seven to ten hours to reach Briançon, less than 15 km via the most direct route by road. Many were exhausted by the time they reached Briançon, and some had suffered injuries from falls on rocky slopes or while crossing frigid mountain streams. In the winter months, the crossing can be perilous: many of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch in January and February were recovering from frostbite, and some required hospitalization.

Once they enter France, many are refused formal recognition as children after flawed age assessments. In cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, many children received negative age assessments because, in the judgement of the examiner, they failed to provide clear accounts of their journeys—in reality, meaning that they made minor mistakes with dates, confused the names of places they travelled through, or did not want to discuss particularly difficult experiences with an adult they had just met. Work in home countries or while in transit to Europe may be taken as an indication that the child is older than claimed, even though many children work at very young ages around the world. Life goals that examiners deem unrealistic, such as overly optimistic assessments of career prospects, may also be factors in negative age assessments.

French regulations require these evaluations to be multidisciplinary in nature, meaning that they should consider children’s educational background, psychological factors, and other aspects of their lives, and call for them to be conducted in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.” In fact, some children described questioning by examiners they said were indifferent or hostile. Children did not always understand the interpreters assigned to them, and some said that their interpreters criticized their responses. Many children felt they had not been heard during their interviews, a conclusion reinforced when they saw the reports prepared by the examiner. Echoing Joshua’s remarks, many other children told us the reports contained significant inaccuracies and included statements they had not made.

Many of the children who arrive on their own in France, whether in the Hautes-Alpes or elsewhere, have suffered serious abuses in their home countries, endured torture, forced labour, and other ill-treatment in Libya, and undergone terrifying sea crossings on overcrowded boats on their way to Europe. Many show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, doctors who work with migrant children in the Hautes-Alpes told Human Rights Watch. But the age examination process does not appear to take into account these circumstances and the well-documented effects of PTSD on memory, concentration, and the expression of emotion.

An immediate consequence of a negative age assessment is eviction from the emergency shelter for unaccompanied children, even for individuals who seek review before a judge. Some find shelter with families who volunteer space in their homes. Others are housed in shelters for adults.

Some children ultimately succeed in having negative age assessments overturned on review, but delays in formal recognition as a child may affect their eligibility for regular immigration status upon adulthood.

Police have also harassed aid workers, volunteers, and activists who take part in search-and-rescue operations in the mountains. For example, members of these search-and-rescue teams told Human Rights Watch police regularly subject them to document checks—procedures that are lawful in France but open to abuse. In some cases, volunteers and activists describe receiving traffic infractions or being subjected to intrusive searches or protracted questioning in circumstances that suggest that the purpose of these acts by police was to target them for their lawful humanitarian activities rather than to ensure road safety or establish identity. Humanitarian assistance is protected under French law, and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has called for EU guidance to clarify that humanitarian assistance to migrants should not be a crime. Nevertheless, French authorities have brought criminal charges against aid workers, often under provisions that criminalize the facilitation of irregular entry.

The practices identified in this report violate unaccompanied children’s human rights, as well as the human rights of aid workers, volunteers, and activists who assist migrant children and adults.

Case of police pushbacks of unaccompanied children to Italy reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear to be a matter of individual police officer’s whim and do not comply with French law or international human rights norms on treatment of unaccompanied children and deny them the protection and care in France they are entitled to as children.

Age assessment procedures in the Hautes-Alpes are arbitrary and fail to respect children’s right to a fair process, drawing adverse inferences from factors such as travelling alone or working while in transit, minor errors with dates, and reluctance to discuss traumatic events in detail. In addition, because formal recognition as a child is an essential first step to enter the child protection system and receive other rights and services, including access to housing, health, and education and regularization of legal status, the age assessment procedures employed in the Hautes-Alpes lead to denial of children’s right to protection and assistance.

France shares the same obligations as all other EU member states to afford unaccompanied children who arrive at its borders special safeguards that protect their human rights as set out in international and EU law. This report evaluates French authorities’ actions in relation to those obligations, while recognizing that France is not alone in the European Union in failing to meet them consistently. The fact that unaccompanied children arriving in France may have had their rights violated by authorities in another EU country does not mitigate France’s duty to ensure that its policies and practices with respect to unaccompanied migrant children comply with international and regional norms and EU law.

Police harassment of aid workers, volunteers, and activists interferes with their ability to provide potentially life-saving assistance to children and adults in need. Prosecutions for providing humanitarian assistance potentially violate a range of rights, including that of freedom of association.

To address the shortcomings identified in this report, French police and immigration authorities should end summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children to Italy and instead ensure they are immediately transferred to the child welfare system for appropriate protection and care.

French authorities should reform age assessment procedures in line with international standards to ensure that children are not arbitrarily denied formal recognition and the protection to which they are entitled.

Authorities should also prevent and ensure accountability for police harassment of humanitarian workers.

Recommendations

To the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice

  • Investigate accounts of police pushbacks of unaccompanied children at the French-Italian border and reported intimidation of volunteers and activists.
  • Repeal the decree allowing prefectures to process the personal data of those who receive negative age assessments for the purpose of expulsion from French territory, potentially before they have had the opportunity to seek review.
  • Ensure that aid and assistance to migrants are not criminalized, in line with the July 2018 decision of the Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel).
  • Together with the Ministry of Social Affairs, ensure that departments have sufficient resources to carry out their child protection functions.

To the Ministry of Social Affairs (Ministère des solidarités et de la santé)

  • Prepare guidance on how to conduct multidisciplinary age assessments that afford the benefit of the doubt in cases where there is a reasonable possibility that the person assessed may be a child and disseminate that guidance to departmental child protection authorities.
  • Together with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, ensure that departments have sufficient resources to carry out their child protection functions.

To the Hautes-Alpes Prefecture and the French Border Police (Police aux frontières)

  • Direct border police to accept an individual’s declared age if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child. In such cases, border police should transfer those individuals to the care of child protection authorities. In no case should an individual be returned to Italy if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child.
  • Ensure that all individuals refused entry into France, including those who are apprehended after irregular entry, are notified of their rights in a language they understand, as required by article L.213-2 of the Code on Reception and Residency of Foreigners and Asylum Law (Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile).
  • Verification of birth certificates and other identity documents obtained abroad should, consistent with article 47 of the Civil Code, be presumed valid in the absence of substantiated reason to believe they are not.
  • Instruct police officers to refrain from conducting abusive identity checks targeting humanitarian activists and volunteers, and to ensure that all stops are grounded in a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
  • Investigate and, if appropriate, sanction conduct by the border police that does not comply with the Code on Reception and Residency of Foreigners and Asylum Law and with policing standards.

To the Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action (Direction des Politiques de Prévention et de l’Action Sociale)

  • Ensure that all those who are awaiting an evaluation receive emergency shelter for the minimum period of five days or until the evaluation is completed, as required by article R.221-11 of the Code on Social Action and Families (Code de l’action sociale et des familles). The period of emergency shelter should be extended to cover any period of appeal of an adverse age determination.
  • Issue and implement clear guidance to staff that age assessments should follow the November 17, 2016, order of the Ministry of Justice. All interviews should be conducted with particular expertise and care, in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.” Birth certificates and other civil documents obtained abroad should be presumed valid in the absence of substantiated reason to believe they are not.
  • Provide for screening for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by trained psychiatrists prior to age assessment evaluations. Those found to have symptoms that could indicate PTSD should receive counseling prior to assessment. In addition, specific protocols should be developed with input from experts in PTSD to determine when, how, and by whom children with PTSD should be assessed.
  • Ensure the availability of interpreters who speak the languages and their variants most commonly spoken by unaccompanied children who undergo age assessments in the Hautes-Alpes. 

To the juvenile court (Tribunal des Enfants)

  • Juvenile court judges should apply the presumption of validity of birth registration and other identity documents issued abroad, in line with article 47 of the Civil Code.
  • Juvenile court judges should exercise their responsibility to ensure effective review of departmental age assessments.

 

To the public prosecutor (procureur)

  • Appoint a legal representative (administrateur ad hoc) without delay whenever a person claiming to be an unaccompanied child seeks to submit an asylum claim to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugies et apatrides, OFPRA).

To the Government and the Parliament

  • Abolish the arbitrary legal status of the 10 km border zone; admit unaccompanied children arriving at the border to French territory to allow their protection needs, vulnerabilities, views, and best interests to be properly assessed and to inform any decision about their future.
  • Amend article 622-1 of the Code on Reception and Residency of Foreigners and Asylum Law to clarify that humanitarian assistance, including the provision of food, water, clothing, medical care, and transport is not a criminal offence, in line with the Constitutional Council’s July 2018 ruling that fraternity (fraternité) is a constitutionally protected principle.
  • Amend the Code on Social Action and Families and other legislation, as appropriate, to reflect the following, in line with international standards:
    • Any age assessment should be a matter of last resort, to be used only where there are serious doubts about an individual’s declared age and where other approaches, including efforts to gather documentary evidence, have failed to establish an individual’s age.
    • Authorities should offer clear reasons in writing as to why an individual’s age is doubted before beginning an age assessment.
    • The environment, questions asked, and assessment of responses should take into account the reality that children cannot be expected to provide the same level of precision as might be expected of an adult, and also reflect the fact that the trauma many children have experienced can affect memory and demeanor.
    • Authorities should not draw adverse inferences from work undertaken by children, the fact that some children have spent time on the streets, decisions by children to travel to Europe on their own. Such experiences are unfortunately common around the world and should not be taken as calling into question a child’s declared age.
    • Age assessment should afford the benefit of the doubt such that if there is a possibility that an individual is a child, he or she is treated as such.
  • Amend the Code on Social Action and Families and other legislation, as appropriate, to ensure that the finding of one department (an administrative division of France) that an individual is under the age of 18 cannot be challenged by another department.
  • Amend articles L.313-11 and L.313-15 of the Code on Reception and Residency of Foreigners and Asylum Law and article 21-12 of the Civil Code to ensure that children are not penalized by delays in the age assessment process. For the purpose of eligibility for residence permits and nationality upon reaching adulthood, children should be regarded as having been taken into care by the child welfare system (Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance, ASE) as of the day they sought to be recognized as children at the Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action or at similar evaluation centers, regardless of how long the age assessment process takes.

To the Italian Ministry of the Interior’s Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration (Dipartimento per la Libertà civili e l’Immigrazione)

  • Ensure that all Italian reception centers, including those for unaccompanied migrant children, provide children with access to education, health care, and psychosocial support and identify durable solutions on an individual basis for each unaccompanied child to help establish normality and long-term stability, in line with the European Commission’s 2017 communication on the protection of children in migration and the European Asylum Support Office’s 2018 guidance on reception conditions for unaccompanied children.

To the European Commission

  • Assess whether France and Italy are in breach of the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Reception Directive, and the Dublin III Regulation. In particular, the European Commission should examine whether France’s age assessment methods adequately afford the benefit of the doubt where results are inconclusive and should evaluate reception conditions and safeguards for children in Italy. The Commission should do the same evaluation where concerns arise at other EU internal borders.
  • Propose revision of the Facilitation Directive to require sanctions for the smuggling of persons only “when committed intentionally and in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit,” as provided in the UN Smuggling Protocol. The revised Facilitation Directive should explicitly provide that EU Member States should not impose sanctions for the facilitation of irregular entry or transit in cases where the aim is to provide humanitarian assistance.
  • Until the Facilitation Directive is revised, develop guidance to ensure its implementation complies with international standards, in particular to clarify that the provision of humanitarian assistance without financial or other material benefit should not be a criminal offense.

Methodology

This report is based on research in the French Department of Hautes-Alpes between January and July 2019. Three Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed fifty-nine boys, one girl, and one adult man who had recently turned 18. Sixty identified themselves as children under the age of 18, and one was an 18-year-old who arrived in France at the age of 16. Twenty-one were from the Republic of Guinea (often referred to as Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea), ten from Côte d’Ivoire, nine from Mali, six from Gambia, four from Nigeria, three from Senegal, two from Burkina Faso, and one each from Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Niger. Fifty-eight travelled through Libya and Italy before arriving in France. Two travelled through Morocco and Spain, and one flew directly to France.

Two of those we interviewed were formally recognized as children following an age assessment by the Departmental Council; 33 had received negative age assessments from the Departmental Council by the time of our interview. Seven of those who received negative age assessments eventually received formal recognition as children after a juvenile court judge (juge des enfants) reviewed their cases, and one was recognized as a child by a family court judge (juge des tutelles). The 18-year-old man had received a French residence permit (carte de séjour) 11 months after he was formally recognized as a child by the juvenile court judge and the week before Human Rights Watch interviewed him.

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews in French, English, Italian, or in one case in Portuguese, depending on the preference of the person being interviewed. The researchers explained to all interviewees the nature and purpose of our research, including our intent to publish a report with the information gathered. They informed each potential interviewee that they were under no obligation to speak with us, that Human Rights Watch does not provide humanitarian services or legal assistance, and that they could stop the interview at any time or decline to answer specific questions with no adverse consequences. The researchers obtained oral consent for each interview. Interviewees did not receive material compensation for speaking with Human Rights Watch.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reviewed 36 evaluations conducted by the Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action (Direction des Politiques de Prévention et de l’Action Sociale) of the Department of Hautes-Alpes, 13 juvenile court judgments, and 2 guardianship orders from the family court.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed lawyers, health care providers, staff of humanitarian agencies, volunteers who assist migrant children, and volunteers and activists who conduct search-and-rescue missions in the mountains near the French-Italian border.

Human Rights Watch met with and shared the findings of this research with the Hautes-Alpes prefecture and the border police director for the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence. We made three requests for a meeting with the Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action and two additional requests for responses to our preliminary findings.[1] In response to our first request for a meeting asking to hear from the department how it identifies children, provides them with accommodation, and ensures their education, the department replied:

We take care of our responsibilities to shelter, evaluate with reference to the legal instruments, follow the cases of recognized minors, with regard to the schooling, apprenticeships, or internships with businesses . . .

In our opinion, there is nothing to be “heard” [from us], the migratory flow has declined in the Hautes-Alpes and our activities have not stopped.[2]

The department eventually offered general responses to several of the points we raised but refused to answer our specific questions.[3]

Human Rights Watch also provided Italian authorities with a summary of children’s accounts of reception conditions in Italy and requested their response to these accounts.[4] In reply, Italian authorities described the reception system for unaccompanied children and offered some responses to the questions we posed, as discussed more fully in the next chapter.[5] .

All names of children used in this report are pseudonyms. Human Rights Watch has also withheld the names and other identifying information of humanitarian workers who requested that we not publish this information.

In line with international standards, the term “child” refers to a person under the age of 18.[6] As the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international authorities do, we use the term “unaccompanied children” in this report to refer to children “who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.”[7] “Separated children” are those who are “separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary care-giver, but not necessarily from other relatives,”[8] meaning that they may be accompanied by other adult relatives.

I. Unaccompanied Children Arriving in the Hautes-Alpes

As with Joshua F., whose case is described at the beginning of this report, many unaccompanied children told Human Rights Watch they came to the Hautes-Alpes after leaving their home countries on their own, with siblings or friends of their own age, or in the company of adults to escape harm at the hands of abusive families, targeted violence from criminal groups, and armed groups.

Nearly all described dangers they faced on their journey, notably the 58 who told us they transited through Libya, where arbitrary detention by authorities, militias, smugglers, and traffickers, torture and other ill-treatment, and forced labor of migrant adults and children are commonly reported. Some said they saw friends or family killed in their home countries, and one boy told us smugglers killed his sister when they were in Libya. Others watched people drown in the Mediterranean when their boats tossed or capsized on heavy seas. The risks on the journey, particularly in Libya and on the Mediterranean crossing, are severe enough that the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) describe the Central Mediterranean route as “singularly dangerous,” one of the world’s riskiest migration routes.[9]

Most of the children interviewed for this report spent six months to a year or more in Italy before deciding to make their way to France. Many cited the lack of access to education and health care as the primary reasons for their decisions to leave Italy. Some children said that discriminatory attitudes expressed by government officials and members of the general public factored into their decisions to leave Italy and travel to France. In addition, children from French-speaking countries frequently said that language and a sense of historic ties between their home countries and France were additional motivations to leave Italy for France.

Most children told Human Rights Watch they attempted to cross the border between Italy and France by traversing the mountains near Claviere, on the Italian side, and Montgenèvre, in France. They crossed through the mountains to avoid apprehension and summary return to Italy, and they chose this route because they heard that it was less dangerous than other mountain routes.

It is true that the route between Claviere and Montgenèvre is comparatively safer than other routes through the Alps, but unpredictable weather, the distance involved, and the need to navigate unfamiliar, steep mountain terrain at night create significant risks. Temperatures can plummet at night, and paths can be covered in snow until early June. Youths told us that to avoid apprehension, they went as high as possible, hiding whenever they saw lights in the distance or heard snowmobiles. Siaka A., a 16-year-old Ivoirian boy, told us that he and the others he was travelling with jumped into snowbanks whenever they saw or heard people.[10] Louis M., a 16-year-old boy from Mali, said, “There was a lot of snow. It was up to my knees. We had to stop every so often because of the snow.”[11] As a result, many children arrive in Briançon suffering from frostbite, other injuries, and the effects of exhaustion.

In 2018, one-third of the migrants staying in the shelter in Briançon identified themselves as children, shelter volunteers told us.[12] Most are West African; the most common countries of origin are Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali.[13]

Reasons for Leaving Their Homes

The children we interviewed described leaving their homes and travelling on their own for a variety of reasons. Many of the children Human Rights Watch spoke with said they had fled abusive family situations, particularly at the hands of stepparents or extended family members after the death of a parent. Others said they had been subjected to labor exploitation. Some said they were targeted by armed groups or by members of the community because of their or their families’ religion, perceived political views, or for other reasons. And some described circumstances that suggested they were trafficked.

Many of the experiences children described are potential grounds for asylum or other protection from return under international law.[14] French law affords unaccompanied children immediate protection and the possibility of regular immigration status upon adulthood for those who are formally recognized as children and placed under the care of the child welfare system, without requiring them to go through the separate asylum process. For this reason, most unaccompanied children in France do not seek asylum, although they are not precluded from doing so.[15]

Abusive Families

Children frequently mentioned family abuse and neglect as the principal reason why they left their home countries.

In particular, children who moved to a relative’s house after the death of a parent said that they faced physical abuse from their new caregivers, typically extended family members. For example, Kebba S., a 16-year-old boy with a Gambian father and Senegalese mother said, “When my father died, I left with my mom for Senegal, to stay with my uncle. My uncle wasn’t gentle with me. Another uncle, who loves me a lot and who is in Gabon, helped me leave.”[16] Other boys, including Malick I., described physical abuse from extended family in similar circumstances.[17]

In addition to physical abuse, some children described situations of labour exploitation in their new homes, as with Louis M., a 16-year-old from Mali, who told us that his uncle forced him to work in the fields after his father and mother died. The work was very difficult, he said, adding, “I was in a very, very bad state.”[18] Ramatoulaye M., a 16-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, said that his relatives sent him to work on the streets of Abidjan after his parents separated and remarried.[19]

Others, such as 16-year-old Yatma K., from Guinea, said that their new caregivers did not allow them to attend school.[20]

Several children told us they were simply unwelcome after the remarriage or death of a parent. Samuel A., a 16-year-old from Nigeria, said, “My stepmother did not want me around. My father told me it was time for me to take care of myself.”[21] Boubacar Y., a 15-year-old from Guinea, gave a similar account.[22] And a 16-year-old Guinean boy, Ismael K., told us that after his father died, his father’s second wife did not want him in the house.[23]

Other children described violence at the hands of one parent after a divorce or separation.[24]

Some children said that their religion or a parent’s religion was a source of tension in their family. Malik R., a 16-year-old from Senegal, explained that his mother is Christian and his father Muslim. “When I was 12, I chose my mother’s religion. My father hasn’t accepted that.”[25] Fabrice M., a 17-year-old Guinean boy, told us that he was raised Catholic, his mother’s religion; after his father died, his father’s family pressured him to convert to Islam, beating him and at one point burning him with an iron rod when he refused.[26] Sixteen-year-old Joshua F., from Cameroon, whose father was Muslim and mother Christian, said that after his parents died in an accident, “My father’s side, they did not like me. . . . They sold my father’s house and carpentry shop where I worked. I was on the street with my little sister.”[27]

In Joshua’s case, although he attributed his relatives’ actions to disagreement over religion, they may have been motivated simply by the desire to take his father’s property. Other children mentioned that their relatives wanted property that a deceased parent had owned. For example, Ousmane A., a 17-year-old, left Guinea with his brother after his half-brothers assaulted him and broke his kneecap during an inheritance dispute.[28] Adama M., a 17-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, said that after his father died, his uncles turned him and his mother out of their house in Abidjan.[29]

Others left because they had no family to care for them, such as Abdullah S., a Liberian 16-year-old.[30] Another 16-year-old, Louis M., from Mali, said, “My father and mother are dead; there is no life for me there.”[31] Assane B., a 15-year-old, said that he had been living on the streets in Guinea.[32]

These accounts of family abuse and neglect as significant motivations for migration are consistent with other research on unaccompanied children who travel to western Europe. For instance, a June 2017 report by UNICEF and REACH found that of 720 unaccompanied and separated children (97 percent of whom were boys) interviewed in Italy in 2016 and 2017, nearly one-third—and almost half of Gambian children—left because of violence or problems at home or with their families.[33]

Armed Conflict and Violence

Some children told Human Rights Watch they were targeted by armed groups or gangs.

For instance, Aliou M., 16, said he left Niger because of attacks by Boko Haram, an extremist armed group whose name in Hausa means “Western education is forbidden.” “Boko Haram placed a bomb at the mosque where my father and mother were praying, and they died. Boko Haram came twice to the house. They beat me at the mosque,” he said, showing us a scar.[34]

Siaka A., a 16-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, told us that he was singled out by a local gang. “My big brother was in a gang . . . . There was a misunderstanding, so he left. On a Monday night, [the gang] came to get my brother at home, but he wasn’t there. They wanted to hurt us. They cut off my fingertip with a machete,” he said, showing us that one of his fingers was missing the tip.[35]

In some instances, children told Human Rights Watch they or their families were targeted because of their religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or similar grounds. For example,

Ismaila D., a 16-year-old-boy from Guinea, told us that he left because he believes members of his ethnic group are targets of state-sponsored violence. [36]

Musa G., 18 at the time of our interview, told us he fled Guinea-Bissau in 2012 with an uncle after his father, a member of the armed forces, was killed during an attempted coup.[37]

Fode A., a 16-year-old boy from Guinea, told us that he left after his family died of Ebola. Because he was the only survivor, the community blamed him for the tragedy:

My father died when I was a baby, it was my mother who did everything. But at the end of 2013, Ebola touched my whole family. Mom and her brothers died while they were trying to do everything [to take care of us]. I had to leave school because my friends said I had Ebola. They told me they were going to kill me. They said I was the one who brought Ebola [to the community].[38]

Trafficking

In some cases, children told us they had not set out from their homes with the idea of coming to Europe. Some said they were taken outside their home countries against their will. Others said they said that they were misled about where they would be going or what work they would be doing. In such cases, they described circumstances that appear to amount to trafficking.[39]

For instance, Joshua F., a 16-year-old boy from Cameroon, told us that he left Douala with his younger sister and travelled to Yaoundé but never intended to leave his home country. He explained:

A boss offered me a carpentry job in northern Cameroon. I left with my 12-year-old sister. But he kidnapped us and took us to Chad. He turned us over to someone else to work with that person. We did the housework; he didn’t pay us. My sister worked a lot.

I wasn’t the one who decided to leave Cameroon. The gentleman told me there was a job in northern Cameroon. I would not have agreed to go to Chad.[40]

After some months in Chad, a group of armed men abducted him and his sister and took them to Libya.[41]

Others had not intended to cross from Libya to Europe. For instance, Kebba S., a 16-year-old boy from Gambia, escaped from a detention center in Tripoli with about nine other men and boys and were hiding in a field when they were approached by a man who offered to arrange their transport to Tunisia if they paid him. A total of about 50 people boarded an inflatable rubber boat. “There was a compass [for us to use] to head toward Tunisia. Then it started to rain. The compass didn’t work anymore,” he said. After two or three days at sea, a large vessel rescued their boat and took them to Catania, in Italy.[42]

Ill-Treatment in Libya

Nearly all of the 58 children we interviewed who said they had transited through Libya interviewed by Human Rights Watch described being held for ransom and detained in degrading and abusive conditions, forced to work, and subjected to beatings and other abuses while they were in Libya.

Although children usually referred to the places where they were held as “prisons,” most said they were not detained by government agents; the rest did not know who detained them. In one such account, Anthony L., a 15-year-old from Ghana, told us:

In Libya, I was sleeping in a camp in the desert, in Sabha [about 780 km south of Tripoli]. It was like a prison. There was no government, no officials. I was held by bandits. I stayed there for one week. It was very bad.

There were a lot of people, 700 people. They keep you in a room with no food. They beat you. They beat me to get money. They beat me for four days.

In the room, there was no space, you could not lay down. It was very hot. You could only stand, and you could not sleep.[43]

In another such account, Moses P., a 16-year-old boy from Gambia, said of the three months he was detained in western Libya, “It was very difficult, there were beatings and cuts with blades. In prison, I suffered so much. Beatings every day.” He showed us scars on his body that he said were from his time in detention.[44] Gabriel F., a 17-year-old Nigerian boy, said that in the place he was held in Tripoli, his captors “were taking girls to sleep with them.”[45]

Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate and often bad food were the norm in the places where children were held, we heard. “There were 10 to 15 people in each room, it was hot, so hot. There was only a small window,” Sékou M., a 16-year-old from Mali, told us.[46] Louis M., another 16-year-old boy from Mali, gave a similar account of the place he was held for a month in Libya: “In the prison, there was no window, there were many people. I did not eat much, only rolls.”[47] Oussenyou A., a 16-year-old boy from Guinea who said he spent a year in Sabratha, about 80 km east of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, told us, “We didn’t eat every day in Libya. Even the water wasn’t good. It was very difficult.”[48]

Children described being forced to work in fields or on construction sites if they were unable to arrange ransom payments from relatives. Joshua F., a 16-year-old from Cameroon, told us that after he and his younger sister were abducted in Chad, they were taken to Libya—he did not remember precisely where—and held by armed men. He said:

I was a victim of slavery. I was working in the fields [and] in construction sites. I managed to escape [from the first place he was held] but was caught and put in another prison. The [men] mistreated us and told us to call our parents to ask for money. But I do not have parents, so one day, a [man] killed my little sister in front of me. In the other prison, I worked in olive fields to pay the prison. The prison took the money.[49]

In a similar account, Siaka A., a 16-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, told us that because he had nobody to call to arrange payment, “I was sold to someone to work. They did not give me money. I worked for two months cutting the grass for the sheep.”[50]

Many children said they endured physical abuse while they worked. Aliou M., a 16-year-old from Niger who told us he worked without pay in Libya for 10 months, said he regularly endured beatings from the man he worked for. “He hit me a lot, with a motorcycle cable, with sticks,” he told us.[51]

One boy told us he was repeatedly sexually assaulted for more than a year by a man who took the boy to his home.[52]

As with Joshua, the 16-year-old Cameroonian boy who saw his sister killed in front of him, other children told us that siblings or other relatives died from accidents or ill-health while they were in Libya. “I was separated from my big brother in Libya and later learned that he had died,” said Ousmane A., a 17-year-old from Guinea. He did not know the circumstances of his brother’s death.[53]

In other cases, children were separated from family members when they were detained in Libya and still did not know at the time of our interview what had happened to their relatives. Ajuma L., a 16-year-old from Gambia, said that he had not seen his brother since their detention in Libya in 2018.[54]

While it appears that the children interviewed in this research experienced abuses in smuggler captivity, children detained in official government detention centers in the western part of the country face similar conditions and treatment. Human Rights Watch and others have documented abuses against children in these official centers, including detention alongside unrelated adults, forced labor, beatings by guards, lack of access to healthcare, lack of adequate nourishment, and lack of access to education.[55]

Despite the well-documented abuse of migrants in Libya, the European Union maintains migration cooperation with the Government of National Accord, one of the two authorities contesting territorial and political control in Libya. The EU—and France—provides support to the Libyan Coast Guard to enable it to intercept migrants and asylum seekers at sea after which they take them back to Libya to arbitrary detention, where they face inhuman and degrading conditions and the risk of torture, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labor.[56]

A 2017 study of 19 unaccompanied children aged 16 and 17 who arrived in Italy found that all had suffered physical and psychological abuse at least once before and during their journeys, particularly in Libya; half of those who took part in the study had been sexually abused.[57] Similarly, an assessment by UNICEF’s Libya Country Office in 2016 found that migrant children and adults experienced high levels of sexual violence, extortion, and abduction while in Libya.[58]

The Perilous Sea Crossing

We were on a Zodiac that normally took 70 people, but we were 185 people, we were packaged like sardines. Thank God there were no deaths. It was a big MSF boat, the Aquarius, that saved us.

—17-year-old Ousmane A., from Guinea

The boat was [inflatable,] like a balloon. I started crying. I was feeling very weak. Lots of people were on board. There was a pregnant woman and six or seven babies. The boat started leaking. I was so afraid.

—Gabriel F., a 17-year-old boy from Nigeria

Children described being taken to boats, usually inflatable vessels known as Zodiacs, and forced to board despite their fears that the vessels were already overcrowded. Ismaila D., a 16-year-old boy from Guinea, said that when his group was at the beach, armed men hit them until they boarded.[59] Sixteen-year-old Tahirou B., from Mali, gave a similar description, saying, “A man refused to get on the boat, so someone hit him with a baton.” He added, “It was the first time that I saw the sea, and I didn’t want to get in. But we were being hit, so I climbed in.”[60] Joshua F., a 16-year-old from Cameroon, told us, “There were many Arabs shooting in the water, forcing us into the water and making us get onto the boat. I lost a lot of friends” in the confusion that resulted.[61]

We heard numerous accounts of smugglers disabling or removing engines and leaving full boats to drift. “When the boat was in the sea, the Arabs took the engine. I thought they wanted to kill us. . . . We spent a lot of time on the water. There were people with bullet wounds and knife wounds. There were pregnant women on board,” 16-year-old Ismaila said.[62]

In some cases, children told us the boat ran out of fuel or the engine simply stopped working. Fifteen-year-old Issa B. from Mali made the crossing in 2018, in a boat that held more than 100 people. “We ran out of gas, we couldn’t move,” he said.[63]

And in other cases, children said that smugglers simply departed after handing telephones to migrants or pointing them toward Europe. “The Arabs accompanied us to a certain point and then they boarded jet skis and left,” Joshua F., a 16-year-old from Cameroon, said.[64]

Sidiki A., a 16-year-old boy from Guinea, described his boat’s rescue after five hours on the sea:

People were vomiting because of the waves. The women were crying. I was scared because I did not know where I was going and I do not know how to swim.

Around 8:00 a.m., we saw a helicopter in the sky. A few minutes later, a small boat with two people came very fast. They told us not to move around. Around 10:00 a.m., they came back and gave us life jackets. Then they left. At 11:00 a.m., the big boat arrived and rescued us.[65]

Sékou M., a 16-year-old boy from Mali, told us his brother died when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.[66] Issa B., the 15-year-old, also from Mali, told us that another boy he was travelling with drowned when they crossed the Mediterranean. “We were in the same boat, but he died. . . . Many people fell out, all died” when the boat went through heavy waves, he told us.[67]

In some cases, children rescued at sea remained on rescue vessels for days or weeks before the vessels were allowed to dock in Italy. Ousseynou K., a 16-year-old from Guinea, said that after he and others were rescued from their boat, they waited on a vessel he described as “a large international boat” before Italian authorities would allow them to disembark.[68]

Neglect and Abuse in Italy

I tried to go to school [in Italy], but the people at the center turned me down. I tried to ask for training in computers; they refused. There was nothing to stay for and nothing to do. We had two choices: eat and sleep, and nothing more. Nothing else.

People insult you on the street: vaffanculo (“fuck off”), negro di merda (“black piece of shit”). . . It’s unbearable for us.

Amadin N., 17, who spent 12 months at a reception center for unaccompanied children in Naples[69]

All of the children we interviewed who had spent time in Italy before coming to France said that they left Italy in large part because of the combination of lack of access to education and health services, inadequate living conditions in the reception centers where they were housed (which they referred to by the Italian word campo, “camp”), and discriminatory attitudes. These were not the only factors that children cited when explaining why they chose to travel to France—in particular, children from French-speaking countries frequently mentioned the shared language and what they saw as a shared history between their countries of origin and France—but it was striking that many of the children we spoke with said they had spent at least six months in Italy before deciding to leave, suggesting that they had not arrived in Europe with the definite idea of France as their destination.

Lack of access to schooling was children’s most frequent complaint about their life in Italy. Nearly all said that they were only able to attend Italian lessons. Children who attended said the lessons were irregular and so short that they could not speak Italian even after a year or more in Italy.

“If I could have had school, that would have made me happy. In the campo, school was two times a week for one hour. It’s not sufficient. I stayed at the campo for six months. I left the campo because I have to finish school and learn a trade,” Sékou M, a 16-year-old boy from Mali, said of his reception center in Foggia, near Bari.[70] In a similar account, Fode A., also 16, from Guinea, said, “We wanted to go to school. But we didn’t go for six months. And even when we went to school [for language lessons], it wasn’t the right way [to learn]—only two times a week.”[71]

Children were particularly conscious that they were not attending classes with Italian students, which many took as an indication that they were not getting the same education that Italian children would receive. “The school was just to know how to write the language. It was inside the campo and there were only black students,” Ajuma L., a 16-year-old Gambian boy, said.[72]

Many children also said they had not received needed medical care in Italy. As one example, Mbaye T., a 15-year-old from Senegal, said he told the staff at his campo in the province of Cuneo, south of Turin, that he had sickle cell anemia but did not receive treatment.[73] We heard from other children who said they did not receive medical care while in Italy. For instance:

  • “In Italy, I asked several times to see a doctor, but I only saw him once and the doctor did not give me any medication,” Louis M., a 16-year-old from Mali, told us, saying that he spent six months in a reception center near Milan.[74]
  • “In the campo, my head hurt and my foot was injured. I never saw a doctor or received medication,” said 15-year-old Issa B., also from Mali, who said he was placed in a reception center in Enna, a town in Sicily near Catania, where he stayed for about six months.[75]
  • “My stomach hurt, I cried, but I was never taken to the hospital. I asked for a doctor. I cried, but I was not looked at. I never saw a doctor” during the six months he was in a reception center in Catania, Joshua F., a 16-year-old from Cameroon, said.[76]

Racist insults and other discriminatory interactions were another factor in some children’s decision to leave Italy, they told Human Rights Watch.[77]

Some children also described overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in their reception centers.[78] Some said their reception centers housed a mix of adults and children.[79]

These accounts are consistent with reports of nongovernmental organizations and Italy’s children’s ombudsman. Italy’s reception system for unaccompanied children is at capacity, with just over 3,700 places available in January 2019 for more than 10,000 unaccompanied children in the country.[80] As a result, unaccompanied children are also held in temporary facilities[81] and at times in reception centers together with adults.[82] Conditions vary widely in facilities across the country, but access to education and health are concerns in many centers.[83] In Sicily, in particular, unaccompanied children are often placed in centers located far from urban areas, with little access to schools and health services, the nongovernmental organization InterSOS reported in April 2019.[84]

The European Asylum Support Office’s 2018 guidance on reception conditions for unaccompanied children calls for unaccompanied children to have access to education, health care, and psychosocial support while they are in the care of EU member states.[85] In addition, the European Commission has called for member states to “establish procedures and processes to help identify durable solutions on an individual basis . . . in order to avoid that children are left for prolonged periods of time in limbo as regards their legal status.”[86]

In 2017, Italy enacted a new law for the protection of unaccompanied migrant children[87] that has been hailed by some human rights groups and UNICEF.[88] Nonetheless, the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione) has identified significant protection gaps remaining under the new law,[89] and Oxfam has noted significant problems with the law’s implementation, including access to education and information about seeking asylum in Italy or requesting reunification with family members in other EU member states.[90]

Before the law was passed, human rights groups reported that unaccompanied children were not receiving enough food and clothing in some reception centers[91] and that some were placed in centers for adults.[92]

In addition, several children cited Italy’s new immigration law, often known as the “Salvini Decree,” which ended humanitarian protection permits for adult asylum seekers, limited access to shelters for asylum seekers, increased permissible detention periods pending deportation, and made it easier for Italian authorities to revoke refugee status.[93] The new law does not directly affect the situation of unaccompanied children, who are eligible for shelter in dedicated reception centers and, after reaching the age of 18, continue to receive shelter until their asylum claims are heard, [94] but the children who mentioned it took it as a sign that they were not wanted in Italy.

Replying to our request for responses to these accounts, the Italian Ministry of the Interior stated that all unaccompanied children are placed in dedicated shelters, where they have access to education, and that all unaccompanied children are entitled to health care in Italy, including before they receive permits to remain in Italy. The ministry also stated that it issued written standards for reception centers in 2016 and is in the process of revising the standards to reflect the 2018 immigration law. Finally, the ministry told us that it has conducted numerous visits to receptions centers, noting that shortcomings discovered on these visits may give rise to disciplinary measures and in serious cases the closure of the center and legal proceedings.[95]

“Children tell us, ‘In Italy, we have no hope,’” said a volunteer with Tous Migrants in Oulx, the last major town in Italy before the border with France.[96]

 

II. Police Pushbacks

Crossing the border is a matter of luck with the police. It depends on their mood.

—Amadin N., 17, Benin, interviewed in Gap in January 2019

French border police sometimes return unaccompanied children to Italy summarily, without affording them the legal safeguards to which they are entitled under French law.

Human Rights Watch heard nine accounts from children who said they were summarily returned to Italy by French border police, including children who attempted to cross between Bardonnechia and Modane, in the Savoie department, and between Ventimiglia and Menton, in the Alpes-Maritimes department, as well as those who were apprehended in the Hautes-Alpes department. Two of these children told Human Rights Watch that police did not ask their ages before summarily returning them, and seven said the border police returned them to Italy even after they said they were under age 18. All nine crossed the border on subsequent attempts.

We also heard of six cases in which border police accepted children’s stated age. There was no discernible pattern: some of those accepted by police had birth certificates but others did not; some were among the youngest children we interviewed, while others were 17; and even though all looked very young, many of the children who said they were summarily returned also looked very young. Rather, it appeared to be a matter of individual officers’ whim.

When we raised these cases with the Hautes-Alpes prefecture, Jérôme Boni, border police director for the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence, told us, “Everybody who claims to be a minor is treated as such. That’s at border posts, if they’re intercepted on a road, on a trail, in the mountains.”[97] But entry refusal documents viewed by Human Rights Watch do not substantiate his description of border police procedures: in October 2018, for instance, two migrants who told border police they were under age 18 received entry refusal documents stating that they had “refused to make a coherent declaration of identity” (“refuse de déclarer une identité cohérente”) and noting that border police judged that they appeared to be adults (“apparence Majeur”).[98] The nongovernmental organization Anafé has also observed refusal documents “bearing the indication ‘adult appearance.’”[99]

French law allows for an expedited process, “refusal of entry” (refus d’entrée), for children and adults who are stopped within 10 km of a land border and found to be in France irregularly. French border police refused entry to 315 persons in 2016, 1,899 in 2017, and 3,787 in 2018, the prefecture told Human Rights Watch. In the first five months of 2019, police refused entry to 781 persons—about the same number as in the first five months of the previous year, when 718 were refused entry.[100] The border police director told us that all refusals of entry were of adults, adding that in 2018, police stopped an additional 635 persons who identified themselves as children, and in the first five months of 2019, 147 who said they were under age 18. None of these individuals claiming to be a child was refused entry, he told us.[101]

In cases of refusal of entry, police must notify the person in writing, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for refusal of entry and the rights to seek asylum and to appeal the refusal. Children should be appointed a guardian and should be treated as “vulnerable” and given “particular attention.”[102] The notice of refusal of entry includes information about the person’s identity, including their date of birth. French police give a copy of the notice to Italian authorities, the border police director told us, adding that Italian authorities in Piedmont do not accept returns of children.[103]

EU regulations do not require Italy to accept such returns of unaccompanied children and in fact prohibit the return of unaccompanied children who seek asylum in France or who have family members in France.[104] Under French law, unaccompanied children who are not subject to refusal of entry should be referred to French child protection authorities. Human Rights Watch’s interviews indicate that French border police and other French law enforcement authorities do not regularly follow the procedures described to us by the border police director.

For instance, 17-year-old Amadin N., from Benin, told us that he was turned back by French border police on his first attempt to enter France. “I showed my papers that said that I was a minor, but the police didn’t want to hear it,” he told Human Rights Watch. The border agents did not offer him a copy of the refus d’entrée (refusal of entry) form, he said.[105]

Ibrahim F., a 17-year-old Gambian boy, one of the two children we spoke with who was summarily returned without being asked his age, told Human Rights Watch that he heard from others in his group that the border police asked two other boys their age and allowed them to continue into France. He did not realize at the time what police were asking the other boys because he did not understand French. Police held him and the rest of the group for two hours before returning them to Italy.[106]

The other boy who told us police did not ask his age before returning him to Italy, 16-year-old Ismaila D., from Guinea, said that when he tried to enter France by road in a group, the police returned all of them without asking ages: “We walked along the road, a lot of us. The French police had a roadblock, so we were returned to Italy. They didn’t ask my age.”[107]

Issa B., a 15-year-old boy from Mali, told us that French border police returned another boy and him after they tried to travel to France by bus:

We took the bus to cross the border at Bardonecchia. The police caught us at the border at Bardonecchia. They took us to an office. That lasted from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The French police called the Italian police. They didn’t come very quickly. The French police asked if I was a minor. I said yes. They told me that if I didn’t have any documents or a passport, I couldn’t enter. They wrote something on a paper, but they didn’t give it to me, they gave it to the Italian police.[108]

In one case, a boy said the French border police entered the wrong year of birth on the refusal of entry document, so it listed him as an adult. Kebba S., a 16-year-old from Gambia, told us that on his first attempt to cross into France:

Yesterday, once I reached [the Italian town of] Oulx, I took the train to Modane [in France]. When I got off the train, the police caught me. They asked what country I was from and my age. Then they filled out a document that I couldn’t enter the country. I gave them my date of birth, 2002, but I saw that when the police officer filled out the document, he put another date of birth, 2000. I refused to sign the document. The police then took me and put me on the train to go back to Italy.[109]

Six children told us they were allowed to continue their journey into France after police stopped them. In most of these cases, border police arranged transport for the children. For instance, when Mbaye T., a 15-year-old boy from Senegal, crossed from Italy into France, he said, “I left for Claviere, and I went through the police post [outside Montgenèvre.] Seeing me, the police officer said he was going to call somebody to take me to Briançon.”[110] Sayo A., a 16-year-old Senegalese boy, told us that border agents arranged for him to be taken to a hospital when he told them that he was having trouble walking:

I arrived alone at the border, at Claviere. It was night, I started to walk on my own through the snow. I walked in the mountains from 1:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. At 7:00, I saw the French police station on the border. I went up to the police, my feet hurt too much. They asked my age, I said I was 16. I said that my feet hurt a lot. They called me an ambulance, which took me to the hospital in Briançon.[111]

Similarly, Malick I., a 15-year-old from Gambia, told Human Rights Watch that after he showed the border police a photo of his birth certificate on his phone, they called the health center in Briançon to pick him up.[112] Another boy, Ramatoulaye M., a 16-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, said that after border police apprehended him in the mountains near Montgenèvre, they called a volunteer to drive him to the shelter.[113]

In other cases, the border police simply allowed children to walk on, as with 17-year-old Habib F., from Senegal, and Fakkeba S., also 17, from Gambia.[114]

In the cases in which police did not summarily return children to Italy, three were 15, and all looked very young. Three, including a 17-year-old, had copies of their birth certificates.[115] One boy’s successful entry seems to have been the result of persistence:

The French police sent me back four times even though I said I was a minor. The fifth time, when we arrived at the French border post, an officer saw us, the same one as the other times. He said the minors could enter but not the adult with us. “The minors have priority,” he said, so the adult was sent back.[116]

When 13 nongovernmental organizations documented police practices on the border between Claviere and Montgenèvre in an October 2018 observation mission, they found substantially the same abuses.[117] “We collected testimonies about modified birth dates, identity papers thrown to the ground or torn by police,” said Agnès Vibert Guigue, a lawyer who took part in the observation.[118] French and Italian nongovernmental organizations have reported similar conduct by French border police operating in and around Menton, the French town in the Alpes-Maritimes department across the border from Ventimiglia, Italy.[119]

Volunteers and activists who take part in mountain searches in the Hautes-Alpes gave similar accounts. “There are refusals [to accept] minor age by the PAF [the French border police], rejection of papers, sometimes destruction of identity documents (including birth certificates). The last instance was yesterday,” one volunteer told Human Rights Watch in late January. “There are also instances of sick minors left on public roads,” he added.[120]

To avoid apprehension by border police and possible summary return, children told us they walked high into the mountains, increasing their risk of frostbite and exhaustion. “We heard that if the police caught us, they would send us back to Italy,” Issa B., a 15-year-old Malian boy said, explaining why the group he travelled with walked high through the mountains.[121] “We walked a long way in the mountains to avoid the police,” said Eva L., a 17-year-old girl from Guinea.[122]

Protection Against Summary Returns

France reintroduced border controls at its land borders with other EU member states in December 2015, after attacks in Paris, and has regularly renewed immigration controls since then.[123] While the reintroduction of these land border controls is in effect, French authorities can conduct immigration checks within 20 km of a land border with another EU member state as well as at international train stations, marine ports, and airports.[124] When border police or other authorities conduct these checks, they verify identity, including name, surname, and date and place of birth. French law provides that individuals who declare that they are under the age of 18 receive the benefit of the doubt, meaning that they are treated as children in the absence of substantiated reasons to believe they are adults.[125]

Those who are found to be in France irregularly may be subject to an expedited procedure, “refusal of entry” (refus d’entrée), if they are stopped by police within 10 km of the border with another EU member state while the reintroduction of land border controls is in effect.[126] In such cases, authorities should issue a written refusal to a person found to be in France irregularly,[127] using a language the individual understands, and should inform the person of the right to seek asylum and the right to appeal the refusal of entry, among other rights.[128] Children may be refused entry, but they should be appointed a guardian.[129] The law also provides that “[p]articular attention is given to vulnerable people, especially minors, unaccompanied or not by an adult.”[130]

A child who is stopped outside of the 10 km border zone is not subject to the “refusal of entry” procedure and is not subject to expulsion or removal.[131] Authorities should treat unaccompanied children stopped outside the 10 km border zone as children in need of protection and should refer them to child protection authorities.[132]

The children interviewed by Human Rights Watch all appeared to have been stopped by police within 10 km of the border with Italy. But in the cases of children who described summary returns to Italy, police did not appear to have afforded the limited procedural protections required by law—police did not always give children written notice of the reasons for refusal, did not appear to take the steps necessary for the appointment of guardians, did not routinely ask children their ages, and in one case recorded a date of birth that was different from what a child claimed. These accounts are at odds with the procedures described to us by the border police director for the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence.[133]

Under the EU Asylum Procedures Directive and the EU Dublin III Regulation, unaccompanied children who have applied for asylum in France should not be returned to Italy.[134] Returning unaccompanied children without notifying them of their right to apply for asylum and affording them the opportunity to do so also violates the Asylum Procedures Directive.[135] In addition, unaccompanied children with family members in France have the right to family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation, meaning that those children should also not be returned to Italy.[136]

The accounts we heard from children as well as from volunteers and activists are consistent with the findings of the National Consultative Human Rights Commission (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, CNCDH), the Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty (Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté), and the French Defender of Rights (Défenseur des droits). In 2018, the CNCDH found that many unaccompanied children were returned without the procedural protections required by French law, including the appointment of a legal guardian, and also noted reports of police altering birth dates on refusal documents.[137] With respect to these practices in the Alpes-Maritimes department, the Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty found in 2017 that French police summarily returned unaccompanied children to Italy.[138] Also with regard to practices in the Alpes-Maritimes, the Defender of Rights found that the return of unaccompanied children to Italy without these procedural protections was “contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and does not respect the procedural guarantees set forth in European law and French law.”[139]

III. Arbitrary Age Assessment Procedures

You gather up your courage with both hands to tell your story, and you are told you are lying. It cannot be right.

  — Amadin N., 17, Benin, interviewed in Gap in January 2019

In cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, unaccompanied migrant children arriving in the Hautes-Alpes were frequently denied formal recognition as children in age assessment procedures that placed undue weight on minor inconsistencies with dates, reasons such as working while in home countries, or officials’ ad hoc assessments of their physical and psychological “maturity”—all factors that either have little or no bearing on their declared age or cannot determine age with precision.

Many of the children interviewed for this report said that they did not understand the interpreters assigned to their age assessment interviews. Many also said they could not answer questions effectively because they did not know the purpose of the questions, felt the official did not want them in France, or were exhausted from their journey and in some cases injured. The few children who had birth certificates or other identity documents told us that their documents were nearly always referred to border police for authentication, despite the presumption in French law that foreign documents are valid in the absence of substantial reason to doubt their legitimacy.

Children receive emergency shelter and access to other social services after an evaluation determines that they are under age 18,[140] meaning that formal recognition as a child is a crucial first step for unaccompanied children to receive protection and care in France. Entry into the child protection system can also lead to access to regular immigration status upon adulthood.[141]

Because many children do not arrive with birth certificates or other identity documents, assessment procedures should enable authorities to establish age through comprehensive interviews by psychologists, social workers, and other professionals.[142] French regulations provide that age assessments should be conducted in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.”[143] Following international standards, age assessments should give the benefit of the doubt when there is a reasonable possibility that the declared age is correct.[144]

In the Hautes-Alpes, the Departmental Council’s Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action (Direction des Politiques de Prévention et de l’Action Sociale) conducts these age assessments.[145] Elsewhere in France, some departments delegate this function to nongovernmental organizations.[146]

The Hautes-Alpes prefecture told Human Rights Watch that it had taken 2,503 unaccompanied children into care in 2018 following age assessments.[147] Separately, the Departmental Council’s Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action told Human Rights Watch that it undertook “close to” 2,846 age assessments in total in 2017 and 2018, an average of 1,423 each year.[148] The number given by the prefecture of children formally recognized and taken into care is also substantially higher from that reported by the Ministry of Justice, which states that the Hautes-Alpes department recognized 381 unaccompanied children in 2018, of which 351 were then transferred to other departments under the allocation system known as répartition nationale. An additional four unaccompanied children were transferred to the Hautes-Alpes from other departments, according to the Ministry.[149]

Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 children who had undergone age assessments in the Department of Hautes-Alpes. Two were formally recognized as children in these age assessments; the others received negative evaluations. Seven of those who received negative evaluations were eventually recognized formally as children after a juvenile court judge (juge des enfants) reviewed their cases. We reviewed an additional 36 evaluation reports prepared by the Departmental Council to explain the outcome of age assessments, as well as 13 juvenile court judgments that reviewed negative age assessments made by the Departmental Council.

The age assessment evaluation should take the form of a “multidisciplinary” interview that includes questions about the youth’s family background, reasons for leaving the country of origin, and plans for the future.[150] Age assessments conducted in the Hautes-Alpes department cover these topics but, in the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, it is not apparent that they fulfil the regulatory requirement that they be multidisciplinary in nature. Children told us they were interviewed by a single official with the assistance of an interpreter. Nothing in the evaluation reports suggests what, if any, diagnostic criteria were employed to assess responses, whether the decisions are the outcome of evaluation by a multidisciplinary team or a single individual, and, if by a single individual, how the Departmental Council ensures that the assessment meets the requirement that it be multidisciplinary in character.

The Departmental Council declined our requests for a meeting to discuss these findings and, in response to our request for comment, wrote:

Although it is particularly concerned with and involved in the reception and shelter of unaccompanied minors on its territory, the departmental institution will not provide detailed answers to the many questions asked in your correspondence. Their reading reveals a clearly biased and unjustly critical approach and interpretation of the procedures put in place by the Department. They seem to argue that the Hautes-Alpes Departmental Council disregards the most fundamental principles in respect of the rights of the young people who are welcomed and evaluated. These allegations, made against an institution whose essential mission is solidarity, are unworthy.[151]

Those who are not found to be under the age of 18 as a result of this interview should receive a “reasoned decision” from departmental authorities.[152] In fact, they ordinarily receive a form letter stating simply that they have not been recognized as a child.[153] The complete evaluation report is not available to them unless they or their lawyer requests it.[154]

They may seek review of adverse age assessments, a procedure before the juvenile court judge that frequently takes months.[155] Alternatively, in a procedure that some lawyers have employed successfully in the Hautes-Alpes, a family court judge (juge des tutelles) can determine that a person is a child in need of protection, a finding that includes a determination of the person’s age.[156]

Although this report focuses on the Hautes-Alpes department, Human Rights Watch has found similarly capricious decision-making in Paris[157] and has heard accounts of arbitrary age assessment practices elsewhere in France.

Poor Interpretation

We heard frequent complaints about the quality of interpretation for all languages, including English. Children said that interpretation by telephone, the usual practice in the Hautes-Alpes, was particularly difficult to understand. Among the accounts we heard:

  • “The translator couldn’t come so he was translating through the phone. I couldn’t hear him well. He didn’t understand my English and I often didn’t understand what he was saying,” Gabriel F., a 17-year-old from Nigeria, told us.[158]
  • “At that time, I didn’t understand anything of French, even if you asked me my name. The translator on the phone tried to speak my language. She said she understood, but she didn’t get anything. She spoke Senegalese Peul and I speak Guinean Peul,” said Sidiki A., a 16-year-old Guinean boy. When he received the decision informing him of the negative age assessment, he saw that it inaccurately reported what he said in the interview. “In the evaluation report, there were a lot of differences. It wasn’t what I said. I didn’t say that,” he told us.[159]
  • Ismaila D., another 16-year-old from Guinea, said, “There was a Peul translator on the phone but it was Senegalese Peul so I didn’t understand very well.”[160]

A lawyer who has represented unaccompanied children after they received negative age assessments told us that in her experience:

Interpretation is by telephone, almost always with the same interpreter whose interpretations are very weak. For example, a young Ivoirian girl who spoke French quite well still asked for interpretation. She said that during the evaluation the translator did not translate her words well. She was annoyed for this reason, and that was held against her.[161]

As part of the age assessment process, officials ask youths to recount their personal history, including their time in transit, in detail. The failure to provide a complete account is frequently held against them, as discussed below. Nevertheless, we heard of some cases in which interpreters appeared to refuse to translate elements of youths’ accounts. For instance, a 17-year-old who was sexually abused over the course of a year in Libya, when he was 13, said that he tried repeatedly to tell the examiner about the sexual abuse he suffered:

I was tired, really tired, and I started crying. I told him what happened to me in Libya. That a man slept with me. But the translator told me it was not important. He also said that he had not a lot of time. I was shocked. The interview lasted approximately 45 minutes.

They rejected my [claim that I was under 18]. When I received the report, I saw that they put things that I didn’t say and that a lot of important things that I said were not in the report. I didn’t understand. I showed the report to [a member of the Réseau Hospitalité] because I was shocked. I think that it’s the translator’s fault.[162]

Stressful, Confusing, Often Intimidating Interviews

Children often said they were unsure of what they were being asked or why and intimidated by seemingly indifferent or hostile evaluators. Some described having trouble focusing on the interview because of injuries they suffered on their journey. Others said they felt uncomfortable answering sensitive questions posed by a stranger who appeared to focus more on the computer screen than on the child across the desk.

Some youths described questions or comments that were improper or that they felt were posed aggressively. A 17-year-old Guinean girl described the examiner who interviewed her in 2018 as “nasty,” saying:

She was putting pressure on me. She was asking me to say things I did not want to say. She said to me, “Tell me the truth. Tell me you’re of age.’ But the truth is that I’m a minor. I told her I could not increase my age. My mother is 34 years old, my father is 36 . . . . I was 16-and-a-half.[163]

Kojo D., a 15-year-old Ghanaian boy who received a negative age assessment three days after his interview, told Human Rights Watch:

The lady asked me why I didn’t go to England because I speak English, but I said that I wanted to stay in France. . . . She said that they don’t need English people here, that it is not our place. I told her that it is unfair because we are all one people and that I want to learn. She was pushing me to say that I am over age.[164]

Children frequently told us that they found important discrepancies between the evaluation and what they had said in the interview. “I saw the report, and I never said the things that were written there,” said Ousmane A., a 17-year-old Guinean boy.[165]

Those who had identity documents were especially aggrieved that authorities seemed to disregard their documents as a matter of course. As one boy said, “What annoys me is that even if I have papers, that’s not good enough. I have a birth certificate with a supplementary judgment (jugement supplétif),” referring to a process of authentication by a court in his home country.[166]

Some children said that injuries or ill-health affected their ability to answer questions fully. For instance, Ousmane, the 17-year-old boy from Guinea, said he had a fractured kneecap from an attack in his home country and told us that he was in so much pain that he could not focus on the questions during his age assessment: “I still had pain in my knee. The department said they could not do anything. During the evaluation interview, I was hurting too much. . . . I could not answer the questions because I was suffering too much.”[167]

French regulations require that age assessment interviews be conducted in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.”[168] International standards call for such interviews to be conducted in a “safe” environment and a “fair manner,” in a way that is sensitive to the child’s age, gender, psychological maturity, and emotional state.[169]

When we asked the department to respond to the accounts we heard, it replied:

With regard to the conduct of interviews, the multidisciplinary evaluation team of the Unaccompanied Minor Unit of the Department of Hautes-Alpes strictly applies the procedures as defined in the framework of Decree 2016-840 of June 16, 2016, and the Order of November 17, 2016. . . .

In addition, and before the interviews, each of the evaluators reminds the young people of their assessment in order to ensure that they understand the process correctly and, if necessary, answer their questions.

Finally, the search for neutrality in the conduct of the interview is a permanent instruction that the team applies without establishing differences between the young people. The environment is “safe” because it is the premises set aside for the activity of the Unaccompanied Minor Unit.[170]

Arbitrary Bases for Decisions

Human Rights Watch reviewed 36 age assessment decisions made by departmental authorities in Hautes-Alpes between July 2017 and June 2019. All but one was a negative assessment, meaning that authorities found that the individual was not a child.

Perceived confusion or lack of coherence in the account, whether with regard to the journey to Europe or schooling or other aspects of life in the home country, was a common ground for rejection in the decisions we reviewed.

Evaluators cited errors with dates, particularly for school attendance,[171] failure to remember the names of towns passed in transit[172] or the precise mode of transport used between specific towns,[173] and similar mistakes as a basis for a negative age assessment. Repetitive or disorganized accounts were also held against children.[174]

Moreover, many of the reports dismissed reasonably detailed accounts as imprecise. In one account criticized for lack of detail, a 15-year-old boy from Mali stated that after his mother died when he was very young, he lived with his grandmother until her death, when he was nine years old. At that point, he started living with his stepmother. He described a typical day in his grandmother’s house activity by activity, beginning with the moment he woke up and greeted her, noting what he usually ate at each meal, and ending with the chores he would help her with before they went to bed. His account of a typical day with his father and stepmother, after his grandmother’s death, was no less specific, noting that he would play with his friends after giving hay to the sheep his family owned. In addition, he described the beatings his stepmother gave him, pointing out the parts of his body where she hit him and showing scars that were still visible on his torso. Summing up this part of his account, the evaluation report concluded: “[He] is able to give benchmarks and details before the age of 9 but not afterward, leading to misunderstandings. The speech is confused, succinct, and not very detailed, which creates confusion.”[175]

In another account, a 15-year-old from Mali told the examiner his mother was unmarried when she gave birth to him and said that he was raised in his grandmother’s household, consisting of about 20 people. He never went to school. Instead, he worked in the fields and did household work. He did not eat meals with the rest of the family and slept in the common area instead of with the other children in the household, and generally did not feel part of the family. Assessing this aspect of the boy’s account, the examiner concluded that he “delivers a story with few details. He gives little information on his way of life and the tasks he did in the fields.”[176]

In a third case, a 16-year-old from Cote d’Ivoire described his house in Abidjan (brick, with electricity and piped water), his apprenticeship to a tailor, and his forced recruitment by two gangs, an account of his life in his home country the examiner judged to have “few details.”[177]

Accounts that are very precise may also be interpreted as an indication of adulthood. For instance, a 16-year-old Malian boy who left school partway through his fourth year, when he was about 11, gave a detailed description of the places he travelled through in Mauritania and Morocco with his uncle but stated that he did not know where they were heading each time they moved on because he had never seen a map of Africa or of the world. Evaluating his account, the examiner wrote that it “contains particularly precise temporal and geographic references. It seems amazing that he claims not to know the geography of Africa, nor of France, as a country where French is spoken.”[178]

Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe may be taken as a sign of adulthood,[179] even though many children work around the world, sometimes at young ages.

Examiners in some cases reached adverse conclusions about children’s age based on an apparent presumption that children’s experiences should conform to formal legal requirements, such as the minimum working age for work or the age of schooling. For example, one examiner judged a Guinean boy’s account that he had begun to learn a trade at the age of 12 not credible “whereas article 142.4 of the Guinean Labour Code states that ‘no one may be an apprentice unless he is at least 14 years old.’”[180]

In another case, an examiner based a negative age assessment in part on the fact that a boy “says he began the first year [of school] at the age of 12 while ordinarily children are educated at the age of 5 in Guinea.”[181] The examiner also concluded that the following aspects of the boy’s account supported a negative age assessment:

  • “Once in Algeria, [the boy] worked, which is ordinarily [an activity] reserved for adults . . . .”[182]
  • “In Italy, [he] was in a camp with minors and adults while according to the law ‘Zampa’ . . . for the protection of unaccompanied minors, it is not possible for them to be in the same camp.”[183]
  • “He decided to leave for France to be protected while he was being cared for in Italy, which makes his purpose not credible.”[184]
  • “When he crossed the border, he was arrested and returned to Italy, which shows that the police recognized his physical maturity.”[185]

As with working, taking the decision to travel alone,[186] to leave Italy,[187] or to cross the mountains between Italy and France alone[188] may be taken as a sign of maturity, even if other aspects of their account are consistent with their claimed age. In one case, the examiner wrote that an Ivoirian boy’s decision to cross the mountains was a sign of maturity because that route “was usually taken by adults, as minors can present themselves at the border post without risk."[189] In fact, as discussed in the previous chapter of this report, border police sometimes summarily return people whom they believe to be adults, without regard to their declared age.

Making their own choices about their religion or their education may also be taken as an indication of adulthood. For instance, a Senegalese boy who said that he chose to follow his mother’s Catholic faith at the age of 12 was judged to show “autonomy and emotional maturity . . . incompatible with his age.”[190] To support this conclusion, the examiner stated that “Senegal is composed 94% of Muslims and traditionally it is the head of the family and so the father who passes on religion [to the children].”[191] In another case, an Ivoirian boy told the examiner that he left a Koranic school against the wishes of his father because he wanted to attend school in French, a decision the examiner concluded was a clear sign of maturity and autonomy.[192]

Deciding to leave an abusive situation may also be taken as an indication of maturity. For example, a 15-year-old Malian boy told the examiner he left his stepmother’s house and spent time living on the streets because she beat him regularly; the report concluded, “It seems that he showed a certain emotional autonomy, especially when he managed to spend several days on the streets alone.”[193]

In another case, a youth received a negative age assessment because he travelled on his own and offered a plan for making a living that the official deemed unrealistic:

[He] recounted his family history clearly and accurately. The reason for his departure is set forth. His migratory journey is also presented in a coherent way with regard to his itinerary as well as its duration. [He] has confirmed his isolation in France and in Europe. His physical appearance may correspond to the date of birth he tells us, but his plan to open a “tele-center” at the age of 15½ and the autonomy he showed during his journey call his minority into question. An administrative refusal is proposed.[194]

In some cases, examiners found that accounts show “autonomy” and “maturity” even in circumstances that suggest the opposite, as with a child who “followed people he did not know to unknown destinations just because he wanted to study.”[195]

Some reports conclude that other aspects of accounts are “unusual,” without stating which, if any, sources the examiners consulted to verify the account. Some of these questioned elements are not implausible, and in any event are not material to the issue of the youth’s age. For instance, the age assessment of a 15-year-old Malian boy stated that his account that he did not sleep in the same room as his uncle, who had lived in Tripoli for many years, was one of several “unusual facts” contributing to a negative evaluation.

Other aspects dismissed as “unusual facts” are instead adverse inferences drawn from accounts deemed to be insufficiently precise. At the same time, the evaluation report does not clarify whether the examiner asked for additional information about these points. The same 15-year-old, for example, told the examiner that his uncle arranged for him to be apprenticed to a Sudanese man to learn to lay tile. The boy also said that the man he was apprenticed to was absent from Tripoli for several months, during which time the boy’s uncle taught him to read and write in French and also had him study verses from the Koran. Discussing these aspects of the boy’s account, the report concludes, “He is unable to give details about his apprenticeship in Libya.” [196]

One boy said he said he was housed in Italy in a reception center that also held adults, a statement the examiner found not credible[197] even though human rights groups in Italy have reported that some centers hold a mix of adults and children.[198]

Examiners sometimes appear to disregard the explanations children offered for leaving their home countries. For instance, evaluating the account of the 16-year-old Ivoirian boy who said decided to flee after gangs forced him to work for them, the examiner wrote that the boy “gave no justification for what led him to go from tailoring to being part of two gangs.”[199]

Hesitation in answering, including when asked about traumatic events such as abuses in Libya or the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean, may be taken as evasiveness.[200] Similarly, requests that interpreters rephrase questions or statements by children that they do not understand the interpreter were also taken as signs of dissimulation in some cases.[201]

On the other hand, responses that indicate confidence or certainty are also held against children. One examiner cited a boy’s “use of a firm tone”[202] as among the reasons for a negative age assessment. Another boy displayed “an assured and confident attitude.”[203] Several reports cited attempts to correct mistakes by translators as an indication of adulthood:

  • In one case, a Malian boy “showed a certain psychological maturity” when, “understanding French, he took over the interpretation when he did not agree with the translation of the names of towns.”[204]
  • When a girl “understood that her responses were not sufficiently developed [by the interpreter], she became annoyed with the translator with a level of aplomb demonstrating a certain maturity.”[205]

As in the girl’s case, irritation or impatience may be taken as a sign of maturity,[206] as, on the other hand, are “nonchalance” and “lack of seriousness.”[207]

Several of the evaluations reviewed by Human Rights Watch cite “emotional distance”[208] and “lack of registration of emotions” when discussing separation from friends or family during the journey,[209] when describing abuses,[210] or throughout the interview[211] as evidence of maturity. In fact, as discussed more fully in the following section, such reactions are indicators of trauma, a reality that was not acknowledged in the evaluation reports Human Rights Watch reviewed.

Advocates suggested that examiners in the Hautes-Alpes do not consider the effects of trauma on children because they lack the specialized training necessary to conduct age assessments in the “multidisciplinary” framework required by regulations.[212] Asked how a multidisciplinary evaluation should be conducted, Yassine Djermoune, a lawyer in Gap, replied:

Evaluations should be conducted by a team that includes psychologists, educators, [and] people who have knowledge of geopolitics because it's important to know where the young person comes from, the reasons that led him to leave his country, the situation of his country. And we are not dealing with that in Gap, we do not know the quality of those who carry out the evaluations, we aren’t dealing with a multidisciplinary team that conducts evaluations—so we do not have psychologists, we have no experts in geopolitics, we do not have specialized educators who intervene, [and] in any case we are not able to assess their quality.[213]

He added, “Evaluations should be carried out in principle in a spirit of benevolence. The law specifies that the minor should receive the benefit of the doubt. In reality, there is no sign of benefit of the doubt. There is never any suggestion of applying the benefit of the doubt. So the slightest inconsistency in the story will be turned against the young person, and the result will be a finding of majority.”[214]

The Consequences of Trauma

Adverse inferences for the reasons described in the previous section do not appear to adequately account for the reality than many children and adults do not necessarily provide well-organized chronological accounts of their life and may often focus on details that seem irrelevant—particularly if they do not understand what is being asked of them or why. It is not clear that officials conducting evaluations appreciate the various ways children may respond to authorities—which can include curtailing responses due to intimidation or confusion and adjusting responses based on perceptions that the official wants a particular answer.

Such challenges may be factors with any child. In addition, unaccompanied migrant children have often experienced threatening, harmful, and potentially traumatic events—including harms in home countries; labor exploitation, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment in Libya; and terrifying sea voyages.

Doctors with the Réseau Hospitalité who have examined unaccompanied children in Gap see a high incidence of symptoms that are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, and in some cases, depression. Some children have attempted suicide.[215] These outcomes are not surprising in light of the experiences children recounted to us. They are also consistent with studies of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children elsewhere in Europe.[216]

Post-traumatic stress disorder has significant implications for age assessment evaluations. Adults and children with PTSD frequently report difficulties with memory, concentration, attention, planning, and judgement.[217] As Dr. Françoise Martin-Cola, of the Réseau Hospitalité, explains, “Inconsistencies in the accounts made by young people are often due to post-traumatic stress. They are in a confused state, and they do not retain clear memories of the most difficult experiences.”[218]

Examiners should be aware of these outcomes—particularly the memory difficulties associated with PTSD—in conducting age assessments and evaluating the responses they receive. They should recognize that mistakes with dates and other details are not reliable indicators of dissimulation, should expect many of the people they interview to have difficulties in providing coherent chronological accounts, and should know that avoidance of reminders of trauma, difficulties in concentration, and “numbing” of feelings and emotion or, alternatively, irritability, are associated with trauma.[219]

More generally, the age assessment process should take into account the likelihood that people being examined are experiencing PTSD. Screening for PTSD by qualified psychiatrists, with counseling prior to assessment for those found to have symptoms that could indicate PTSD, would improve examinations and result in a fairer process. In addition, specific protocols should be developed with input from experts in PTSD to determine when, how and by whom children with PTSD should be assessed.

Judicial Delay and Excessive Deference to Departmental Evaluators

The juvenile court can review negative age assessments, a process that takes six to eight months or more. For instance, Amadin N., a 17-year-old from Benin, was formally recognized as a child in June 2019, 10 months after he received a negative age assessment from the Departmental Council and sought review by the juvenile court.[220] Gabriel F., from Nigeria, and Joshua F., from Cameroon, each saw the juvenile judge in April 2019, six months after they sought review, and heard in June that the judge would rule on their cases in September, meaning that they would wait 11 months in all to have their cases reviewed.[221]

Commenting on the length of time required for a ruling from the juvenile court, a lawyer in Gap told Human Rights Watch:

In principle, everyone has the right to have their case dealt with in a reasonable time. When you are told that minors sometimes wait almost a year before seeing their minority recognized, there is clearly a delay that is unreasonable [with these cases.][222]

If the judge reverses the decision of the Departmental Council, the child is taken into the care of the child protection system. Because the effective date of entry into the child protection system is the date of the judge’s ruling, a child’s eligibility for immigration status upon reaching adulthood may be adversely affected, as discussed more fully in the following section. If the child turns 18 before or shortly after the judge’s ruling, the practical consequences of the order are negligible.

Lawyers and volunteers told Human Rights Watch that the juvenile court in Gap has frequently deferred to the decisions of the Departmental Council without considering whether evaluators complied with the procedures set forth in French regulations and in particular whether they adequately took into account the effects of trauma on children’s memory, concentration, and demeanor.[223]

Our own review of case files confirmed that the juvenile court in Gap has accepted departmental evaluations without appearing to consider these factors and without discussion of the principle of giving the benefit of the doubt if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child. For instance, in a November 2018 judgment reviewing the negative age assessment of a 16-year-old Senegalese boy, the juvenile court judge stated, “It is not up to the juvenile judge, who is not trained in sociological, ethnological, and psychological analysis, to substitute his own analysis for the evaluation work carried out by the Departmental Council.”[224] The judge noted a doctor’s report that the boy presented symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder and that, in that light and on the basis of her observations in multiple consultations, the boy’s behavior, physical appearance, and mental state were consistent with that of a child. The judge stated, “Taken alone, these elements, even if they shed useful light on [the boy’s] situation, are not sufficient to demonstrate the minority of the applicant.”[225]

In another case, the juvenile court acknowledged “the suffering and trauma” of children and adults “linked to the long, difficult, often dramatic migratory route.”[226] The court went on to say:

The specialized team of the Hautes-Alpes Departmental Council, having been trained in the analysis of migratory stories to test their credibility, considers that the physical and psychological maturity and lack of coherence of the narrative of [the applicant] demonstrates his majority. It is not up to the juvenile judge, who is not trained in sociological, ethnological, and psychological analysis, to substitute his own analysis for the evaluation carried out by the Departmental Council.[227]

Other judgments by the Gap juvenile court reviewed by Human Rights Watch contain no discussion of the court’s finding that additional evidence offered by the child was “insufficient to establish minority” and repeat in nearly identical wording that the court would not substitute its analysis for that of the departmental council.[228]

Some of the judgments we reviewed cited, as grounds for upholding negative age assessments, specific findings from the Departmental Council’s evaluation that, as discussed above, are unreliable as indicators of age. For instance:

  • Nine judgments relied in part on children’s inability to provide well-organized responses to examiners’ questions about their journeys, with no indication that examiners or judges considered the effects of age, education, and trauma on a child’s ability to provide structured, coherent narratives.[229]
  • Five judgments stated that a child “showed autonomy in taking the decision to leave his or her home country alone,”[230] even though children regularly travel unaccompanied to Europe and elsewhere in the world, as Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported.
  • Five judgments relied on examiners’ assessments of “physical and psychological maturity” (maturité physique et psychique), characteristics that vary widely among adolescents.[231]

One ruling noted with disapproval that a child’s description of his migratory route to the court was more detailed than that given in the original age assessment, without considering the possible effects of the opportunity for rest and reflection, psychological counselling, and the greater understanding of the need for detail and precision that legal assistance can provide.[232]

The juvenile court’s ruling can be appealed, a process that can take an additional year.[233] Eva L., a 17-year-old Guinean girl, told Human Rights Watch that she had appealed the juvenile judge’s decision in her case, “but by the time it’s over I’ll have become an adult.”[234]

An alternative that several lawyers in Gap have pursued successfully is to seek a ruling from the family court judge (juge des tutelles) that a person is a child in need of protection.[235]

The Consequences of Incorrect Age Assessments

Children who are incorrectly judged to be adults may face serious barriers in access to education and health services, even though education is in principle open to all in France,[236] and some forms of health services should be available regardless of a person’s migration status.[237] In addition, because those who are not formally recognized as children are not under the protection of the child welfare system, they are dependent on the overstretched emergency accommodation system for adults or on the generosity of private citizens. This includes those who are seeking review of negative age assessments.

The Réseau Hospitalité has succeeded in persuading local schools to enroll many of the children they work with in Gap.[238] It has also found accommodation for many of these children with private citizens who have agreed to open their homes to children in need. Without these private initiatives, many of these children would be homeless and would likely not be attending school while they waited for the judge to rule on their cases. These private initiatives are laudable, but they do not excuse the state from its responsibility to provide access to education for all and to ensure that children are not homeless while they exercise their right to review of negative age assessments.

Lack of recognition as a child has significant consequences for legal status. Children are not required to obtain a visa or residence permit (titre de séjour), regardless of their manner of entry to or length of stay in France,[239] while adults—and those who are not formally recognized as children—may be detained and deported if they cannot produce evidence of lawful status. A recent decree provides for the systematic transfer of personal data of all those who receive negative age assessments to the prefectures, administrative authorities under the Ministry of the Interior, which may then arrange for their removal from France—potentially before they have had an opportunity to seek review by the juvenile court.[240]

Negative age assessments and delays in review may also affect future immigration status even if formal recognition is ultimately extended because the timing of being taken into care by the child welfare system affects eligibility for residence permits and French nationality. A child who is taken into care before the age of 15 can request French nationality at age 18,[241] and a child who enters the child protection system before age 16 is eligible at age 18 for a residence permit to continue studies or to work.[242] Those who are taken into care after reaching the age of 16 may be able to obtain a student or work permit, but the process is more complicated.[243] Those who turn 18 during the age assessment process are ineligible for these permits.

Children’s Right to a Fair Process

As with adults, children have the right to a fair hearing when their rights are adjudicated,[244] including in any age assessment procedures—which can determine whether an individual enjoys the rights afforded to children. French authorities may assess age where there are serious doubts that a person is a child, but age assessment procedures that are arbitrary infringe on children’s right to a fair hearing and can also result in violation of children’s right to an identity.[245]

As a general matter, the child’s best interests should be “a guiding principle for determining the priority of protection needs and the chronology of measures to be applied in respect of unaccompanied and separated children.”[246]

Age assessment should be a last resort, used only where there are serious doubts about an individual’s declared age and where other approaches, including efforts to gather documentary evidence, have failed to establish an individual’s age.[247] In such cases, authorities should clearly and formally offer reasons why an individual’s age is doubted before commencing age assessment procedures. With respect to documents, the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Committee on the Rights of the Child state, “Documents that are available should be considered genuine unless there is proof to the contrary . . . .”[248]

When age assessment procedures are used, they should be multidisciplinary in nature. Age assessment should be a comprehensive process that “should not only take into account the physical appearance of the individual, but also his or her psychological maturity.”[249] UNHCR notes that “the guiding principle is whether an individual demonstrates an ‘immaturity’ and vulnerability that may require more sensitive treatment.”[250]

To facilitate comprehensive assessments, one expert has recommended the establishment of “multi-agency teams based in regional age assessment centres. The multi-agency team would include social workers, paediatricians, psychologists, teachers and others able to contribute to the assessment process.”[251] The European Asylum Support Office recommends that two assessors be involved in the age assessment process when possible.[252]

Children should receive appropriate assistance, including the appointment of guardians before the commencement of age assessment procedures[253] and the assistance of qualified interpreters [254] throughout the procedure.

Interviews with children, whether as part of an age assessment process or for other purposes, require expertise and care. UNHCR cautions that “[c]hildren cannot be expected to provide adult-like accounts of their experiences”[255] and observes that “time is crucial in building trust and allows for proper recollection and sharing of information about the child’s own story which is useful in establishing his or her age.”[256] In particular, as the Committee on the Rights of the Child notes, children who have been living on the street “are often distrustful of adult intervention in their lives.”[257] For these reasons, interviews should be tailored to the needs of children and should be conducted by examiners with the necessary training and skills.[258]

Examiners should take particular care to avoid imposing their own culturally specific or other stereotyped notions of childhood in conducting age assessments. For example, working at young ages is uncommon in Europe but common in many parts of the world. Engaging in work, including very dangerous or difficult work or working for long hours, is not in itself an indicator of adulthood.

International standards call for individuals to receive the benefit of the doubt in cases in which age is uncertain or disputed. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has concluded that age assessment procedures “should accord the individual the benefit of the doubt such that if there is a possibility that the individual is a child, she or he should be treated as such.”[259] In similar terms, UNHCR observes that “[t]he margin of appreciation inherent to all age assessment methods needs to be applied in such a manner that, in case of uncertainty, the individual will be considered a child.”[260]

The age assessment and asylum procedures used in the Hautes-Alpes—and, as Human Rights Watch has previously documented, in Paris[261]—do not protect children’s best interests, do not afford them the benefit of the doubt, and in other respects do not afford them a fair process. As a result, many unaccompanied children in the Hautes-Alpes are denied their right to protection and assistance.

IV. Police Harassment of Aid Workers, Volunteers, and Activists

Border police and other law enforcement agents regularly subject aid workers, volunteers, and activists to document checks and vehicle inspections in circumstances that suggest that police are not employing them for public safety or other legitimate policing purposes. In many cases, police appear to employ these procedures selectively for the purpose of intimidation or harassment, or in order to create obstacles to humanitarian activities. These practices create a hostile environment for humanitarian workers and may undermine public trust in the police.

In addition, in some cases volunteers and activists have faced prosecution for what appear to be participation in search-and-rescue missions in the mountainous border region and other humanitarian acts that are permitted by law.

Such forms of harassment are not unique to the Hautes-Alpes; aid workers, volunteers, and activists operating in and around Calais have described similar practices to Amnesty International, the French Defender of Rights, Human Rights Watch, and UN special rapporteurs.[262] Police in France use overly broad powers to stop and search people in public spaces, even without any reasonable, individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, as a central tool in territorial control, leading to abuses particularly targeting France’s “visible minorities.”[263]

Abusive Document Checks

Volunteers and activists who regularly take part in mountain searches told Human Rights Watch that they are subject to document checks, or “controls,” with a frequency that indicates the checks are more than just a means of establishing identity. “[They’ve stopped us] several times during the evening. It’s a form of harassment,” a volunteer said.[264]

Other volunteers gave similar accounts. “Systematically when we take part in searches in Montgenèvre there are controls . . . often several times in the evening. It’s common to be stopped by the same police in the same evening,” one told us.[265] “I’m stopped by the gendarmes nearly every time I go up” to take part in a mountain search, another volunteer said.[266]

Describing these identity checks, a volunteer said:

They stop us. They stay 20 minutes with us. They are on the phone [to verify identity]. They ask a lot of questions about what we are doing. They want to take pictures of passports. In April, everybody was stopped two or three times in the [same] evening.[267]

Others interviewed by Human Rights Watch had similar accounts of repeated document checks. “There are identity checks several times in the same evening,” another volunteer said.[268]

The volunteers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they believed they were singled out for their humanitarian activities. For example, one volunteer told Human Rights Watch:

It’s targeted, very targeted. We could see that they did not stop tourists or pedestrians. . . . I have had identity checks on the way home. It’s very targeted. They knew very well who they were talking to. It’s routine—not all the time, but almost. It’s almost every night. There really was a period there in February [when identity checks were particularly frequent].[269]

Police sometimes made comments that suggested they already knew the identities of those they stopped, volunteers said. For instance, one volunteer described a stop in Montgenèvre in August 2018:

I lowered the window and the policeman said to me, “Ah, you’re back, where is your car?” And he quoted the make and model of my car. That day, I was driving someone else’s car. When I told him I didn’t see why he mentioned that, he said, “Stop fucking with us, we know you were here all summer.”[270]

Volunteers who questioned identity checks or police conduct when they were stopped described particularly prolonged searches that included comments from police suggesting retaliation. For instance, in May 2019 a group of volunteers had their car searched thoroughly by police after one of them asked why they had been stopped. The officers who conducted the search said they were giving the volunteers “the full treatment” for questioning the officers’ authority, two of the volunteers present during the search told us.[271]

Volunteers at the migrant shelter in Briançon, including those who do not take part in mountain searches, also said they are subject to frequent document checks. “We’re stopped readily; our vehicles are known,” a shelter volunteer told Human Rights Watch.[272] Shelter volunteers who regularly took unaccompanied children to the police station the morning after they arrive at the shelter told us that police frequently check volunteers’ documents even if the volunteers have been to the police station several days in a row.[273]

Repeated Fines for Minor Infractions

Volunteers and activists, including those who staff the migrant shelter as well as those who take part in mountain searches, said that police often issued citations for minor vehicle infractions. “During the controls, they look at everything. You’ll be fined for the smallest thing,” one volunteer told us.[274] “We have to make sure our cars are in perfect order, because we can be fined for anything,” a volunteer with the shelter in Briançon, commented.[275]

Volunteers and activists gave the following examples, in many cases showing us copies of citations they had received:

  • A group of aid volunteers received a 90-euro fine for tires that were too worn.[276]
  • “Last week, [the police] issued a citation to a vehicle because the fog lights were on,” one volunteer told us in May 2019.[277]
  • “I received a fine for not having a sticker showing that I had studded tires,” a volunteer said. “It’s a form of tacit harassment.”[278]
  • A volunteer who took a group of children from the shelter in Briançon to the police station received a traffic ticket resulting in “four points on the license and a 90-euro fine. For whatever—for crossing the white line. There is no white line at the address there.”[279]
  • In another case, a volunteer parked behind the migrant shelter to unload supplies, driving briefly the wrong way down a one-way street to do so. “It’s five meters long . . . . Yes, I took it. I was in the wrong. The police were hidden there, a little further on. As soon as we pulled out, they approached us.” When the police asked for his identification, he removed his seat belt to reach into his pocket. For driving the wrong way, “I was fined 250 euros, and they took away three license points,” he told us. “And I received a second fine—for not wearing the seat belt. So another 250 euros and another four license points. So I got 500 euros in fines and they took away seven points all at once.”[280]
  • Another volunteer, also ticketed for taking the one-way road the wrong way into the parking lot, said that police treated her as though she had committed a serious crime. “They put real pressure on you, you feel it,” she said.[281]

We also heard of volunteers receiving fines for malfunctioning windshield wipers, broken tail lights, and low tire pressure.[282]

Some volunteers said they received citations for vehicle infractions after questioning the need for repeated identity checks. In one such case, police took a group of volunteers to the station and held them for an hour after they asked why they had been subjected to identity checks. One of these volunteers told Human Rights Watch:

When we were able to leave the police station with the car, we wanted to go back to Italy, but I crossed the white line to turn left, and we were stopped at the border post. They told us, “You are going to have a very bad night. We have the power to take away six license points.” They took my address in Briançon. They said, “One day we’re going to succeed in getting you.” I received fine of 180 euros and six points on my license.[283]

It is not improper for police to inspect vehicles and issue citations for infractions. But the circumstances of many of these citations, in particular the descriptions of statements made by police, suggest that police have targeted aid workers, volunteers, and activists in Briançon and Montgenèvre for harassment because of their humanitarian activities.

The “Offense of Solidarity”

At least since 2016, French prosecutors have brought charges against activists and volunteers assisting migrants and asylum seekers in the border region between Italy and France. Most prosecutions that have gone to trial have resulted in suspended sentences, but they have taken a significant toll on the accused and have contributed to the creation of a hostile environment for humanitarian work in the region. In July 2018 France’s Constitutional Council ruled that “any act of aid provided for humanitarian purposes” could not be punished, regardless of the migration status of the person being helped. The ruling also specified that facilitating the movement of irregular migrants within France should not be criminalized “when these acts are carried out for humanitarian purposes.”[284]

The ruling that followed the prosecution of Cédric Herrou, a farmer who helped hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers, ultimately led to a constitutional affirmation of the protection of humanitarian assistance. In February 2017, Herrou received a fine of 3,000 euros, suspended, for helping asylum seekers cross the border and, once they were in France, providing them with shelter, food, and transportation.[285] On appeal, the court increased his sentence to four months in prison, also suspended.[286]

Prior to Herrou’s case, there were many other instances of prosecution for humanitarian assistance to migrants in recent years. Pierre-Alain Mannoni, a marine ecology research professor, was arrested in October 2016 in the Alpes-Maritimes department after he picked up three Eritrean women who had just crossed into France, intending to give them a ride to Nice.[287] “They are afraid, they are cold, they are exhausted, they have bandages on their hands, on their legs,” he wrote of seeing them on the roadside.[288] He was initially acquitted and then, after prosecutors appealed, convicted and given a two-month suspended sentence.[289] The Court of Cassation, France’s highest court of ordinary jurisdiction, overturned Herrou’s and Mannoni’s convictions in December 2018.[290]

In another case, Martine Landry, an Amnesty International volunteer from Menton, across the border from Ventimiglia, Italy, faced charges of aiding illegal entry after she took two 15-year-old Guinean boys to a police station in July 2017.[291] In Landry’s case, decided after the Constitutional Council’s ruling, the criminal court dismissed the charges against her, finding that “[a]t no time did she seek to evade the law” but instead engaged in “a fraternal action for a humanitarian purpose.”[292] The public prosecutor’s office announced that it would appeal her acquittal.[293] As of late August 2019, the appeal was pending, but no date had been set for it.[294]

More recently, in April 2018, a group of demonstrators walked from Claviere, in Italy, to Montgenèvre, in France, about three kilometers away, and from there to Briançon. The march was in part a reaction to the activities of an anti-immigration group that was engaging in actions intended to prevent migrants from crossing the border near Montgenèvre. Authorities initially claimed that some 20 migrants walked across the border with the demonstrators, although they eventually said that only one migrant had in fact entered France during the demonstration. The public prosecutor charged seven of the demonstrators with using the rally to help migrants enter France irregularly. Two activists received prison sentences; five others received suspended sentences. Their appeals are pending.[295]

Human Rights Watch heard of other threats of prosecution for humanitarian activities in Hautes-Alpes and elsewhere. For instance, in June 2018 two men picked up an unaccompanied child, whom they described as being in “obvious distress,” on the road between Claviere and Montgenèvre and drove him to the police post to ask that the boy be taken to the hospital. Police told the two men they could either immediately give statements for use in a criminal investigation against them or be held in custody pending interrogation.[296]

In a case outside Hautes-Alpes, a volunteer said that when she took unaccompanied children to the Isère Departmental Council in July 2018, she received a summons to report for police custody (garde à vue) pending interrogation. She explained:

They kept me on July 31 for five hours to ask me questions: “Do I know them?” “Why did I accompany them?” That kind of thing. It was so absurd. . . . I did not answer the questions.[297]

She has not heard the outcome of this investigation. “I think they gave up,” she said.[298] It is possible that in light of the Constitutional Council’s ruling the police did not pursue any charges.

Nevertheless, despite the Constitutional Council’s ruling, in January 2019, in separate trials, two other volunteers who took part in mountain searches in and around Montgenèvre were charged with and convicted of aiding irregular entry. The two volunteers appealed their convictions.[299] One of these appeals is scheduled for a hearing in late October 2019.[300]

And in March 2019, seven activists with Roya Citoyenne, a group advocating for the rights of migrants on the French-Italian border, were held in police custody for more than 24 hours and their computers and phones seized. One of their lawyers told reporters that the reason given for the lengthy period of police custody was to investigate possible facilitation “of the entry, movement and residence of foreigners in an irregular situation for the period from September 10, 2018 to March 5, 2019.”[301]

These prosecutions, investigations, and police harassment come at a time of increasing hostility towards activists and volunteers providing vital assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in European countries. A recent study by the Research Social Platform on Migration and Asylum (ReSoma) found that between 2015 and 2019, at least 83 people have been investigated or prosecuted for facilitating irregular entry and transit, and 18 were investigated or prosecuted for facilitating the stay or residence.[302] The study found that in France, 31 people had been investigated or prosecuted on grounds of facilitating the entry, transit and/or residence of migrants in the same time frame.[303]

Because the stated aim of search-and-rescue operations by volunteers and activists is humanitarian, many speak of being prosecuted for the “offense of solidarity.” In an interview with Le Dauphiné Libéré, a regional newspaper, the Gap prosecutor took issue with this phrase. He stated, “Someone, including on a search-and-rescue mission in the mountains, finds a foreigner in the snow, who is on the other side of the border or who has just crossed it or who is on the French side, and notices that this person is in great distress—their duty is to help. [The issue] is not ‘do you have the right’; [it is that] you have the duty to help them.”[304]

Nearly every volunteer and activist we spoke with said the 2018 prosecutions in Briançon had focused their outrage and resolve but, at the same time, had seemingly emboldened police to escalate harassment against them. One activist commented that the prosecutions had had a “double effect”:

[They have] motivated people to fight despite the penalties that have fallen on them. [And] the police have changed their technique by harassing us. Identity checks, even when we’re walking in Montgenèvre and of course on the route [between Italy and France]. And even here [in Briançon] they’ve waited for us behind the shelter. And then it’s checking identity documents, the paperwork for the car, and being fined.[305]

Other activists agreed that police harassment had increased after the trials. Reflecting on the process, one commented, “All of this . . . the trials have changed our lives. This summer, there was no way [for me] to walk around Briançon without being stopped. I now have difficulties crossing the border.”[306]

And although all of the activists who were charged and convicted told us that the court case had motivated them to continue their humanitarian activities, they also said it had taken a personal toll. One stated:

Between the police custody and the trial, I had the impression the police could just show up at my home at any time. It creates a bunch of tension to feel that they have the power to do that sort of thing. It keeps us on edge.[307]

Another said simply, “We are physically and morally exhausted.”[308]

Weak Legal Protections for Humanitarian Assistance

French law punishes facilitation of irregular entry, transit or stay in France with up to 5 years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine.[309] While the immigration code already contained a vague humanitarian exemption to facilitation of irregular stay, parliament amended the code following the Constitutional Council ruling to exempt assistance to the transit and stay of irregular migrants if no compensation was received and the assistance was offered with “an exclusively humanitarian objective.”[310] Assistance that helps someone enter French territory irregularly—for example, rescuing someone lost in the mountains and driving them into France—is not covered by the humanitarian exemption.[311]

European Union law gives member states wide discretion in how they implement common rules on combating people smuggling and other infractions of national immigration laws. The key legislation in this regard, the 2002 EU Facilitation Directive, says member states “may” choose to not sanction a person who intentionally assists another person to enter or transit irregularly its territory if the aim was to provide humanitarian assistance.[312] States are not obligated to ensure a humanitarian exemption, and the Facilitation Directive allows for prosecution even when there is no financial or material benefit.[313] Only seven member states explicitly exempt from prosecution facilitation of irregular entry and/or transit if done for humanitarian purposes.[314]

The UN Smuggling Protocol requires the criminalization of the smuggling of migrants only “when committed intentionally and in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.”[315]

Despite evidence of increasing criminalization of humanitarian activities and pressure from civil society organizations, in 2017 the European Commission declined to consider reforming the Facilitation Directive, concluding that the risks of prosecution for such activities are linked to problems with interpretation and implementation, rather than the legal text itself.[316] In 2018, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to adopt guidelines to “clarify those forms of facilitation that should not be criminalized” to, among other reasons, “limit unwarranted criminalisation.”[317] The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has called for EU guidance that would “explicitly exclude punishment for humanitarian assistance at entry . . . as well as the provision of non-profit humanitarian assistance (e.g. food, shelter, medical care, legal advice) to migrants in an irregular situation.”[318]

The refusal by France and the European Union to adopt an unambiguous position that the provision of humanitarian assistance without financial or other benefit should not be considered a crime contributes to an environment where police feel empowered to harass aid workers, volunteers, and activists. Abusive identity checks, targeting volunteers and activists for minor vehicle infractions that in ordinary circumstances would receive no more than a warning, threatened or actual police custody for humanitarian activities, and criminal charges for those humanitarian activities violate the rights to liberty of person and to freedom of association and, in the case of police custody, amounts to arbitrary arrest.[319]

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, based on research he undertook in the French Department of Hautes-Alpes from January to July 2019 with Helen Griffiths, fellow in the Children’s Rights Division; Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director; and Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator. Sara Chollet and Loan Torondel, interns in the Paris office, analyzed case files and assisted with legal research; Elisabeth Dotter, an intern in the Paris office, also assisted with research.

Zama Neff, executive director of the Children’s Rights Division; Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director; Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director, edited the report. Joe Amon, director of global health and clinical professor of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, reviewed the section on the consequences of trauma. Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director; Corinne Dufka, West Africa director; Bill Frelick, refugee program director; Bénédicte Jeannerod; Camille Marquis; Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher; and Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher, also reviewed the report. Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and José Martínez, senior coordinator, produced the report. Zoé Deback translated the report into French, and Camille Marquis reviewed the translation.

We appreciate the willingness of officials with the prefecture to meet with us to discuss our findings.

Human Rights Watch is particularly grateful to the nongovernmental organizations and individuals who generously assisted us in the course of this research, including the dedicated volunteers of the Refuge Briançon, the Réseau Hospitalité Gap, CHUM, and Tous Migrants and the nongovernmental organizations Amnesty International France, Anafé, Médecins du Monde, and MSF.

Finally, we would like to thank the children and young adults who were willing to share their experiences in the hope of improving the lives of unaccompanied children in the future.

Glossary

Administrateur ad hoc A temporary guardian

AME  State Medical Aid (Aide médicale d’État), health care for those with irregular migration status

ASE Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance, the child welfare service in France

Carabinieri  Italy’s national gendarmerie, functioning both as a national police force and as military police

Césaï      Centre social auto-géré de l’Imprimerie, Gap

CESEDA  Code de l’entrée du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, the French immigration and asylum law

Department  An administrative division of France. Gap is the prefecture, or capital, of the Hautes-Alpes department.

Departmental council  Conseil départemental, the governing body of a department, with responsibilities that include conducting age assessments of unaccompanied children and providing for their care and protection

Garde à vue  Police custody

Juge des enfants   Juvenile court judge, exercising oversight of children at risk

Juge de tutelle     Family court judge

Jugement supplétif  “Supplementary judgment,” a procedure that allows a judge to order issuance of delayed or replacement birth certificates, typically upon the production of witnesses who can attest to a child’s birth and parentage.

115 An emergency number that those who are homeless in France can use to find temporary shelter.

PAF    Police aux frontières, the French border police

Prefecture The town in which the administration of a department is located; also refers to the departmental administrative authority.

Refus d’entrée     Refusal of entry

Tiers digne de confiance  A trusted third party; in the case of unaccompanied migrant children, a family designated by the court to provide temporary care.

Zodiac A large inflatable boat equipped with a motor, often used to   cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

 

 

[1] Email from Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch, to Béatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, May 2, 2019; Email from Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch, to Béatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, May 7, 2019; Email from Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch, to Béatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, May 16, 2019; Letter from Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, to Beatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, May 29, 2019; Email from Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch, to Béatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, June 25, 2019.

[2] Email from Béatrice Longueville, director, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, to Camille Marquis, senior advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch, May 2, 2019.

[3] Letter from Jérôme Scholly, director general of services, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2019.

[4] Letter from Michael Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, to Prefect Michele di Bari, head of department, Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, Ministry of the Interior, August 21, 2019.

[5] Email from Michela Lattarulo, central director of civil services for immigration and asylum, Ministry of the Interior, to Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, September 3, 2019.

[6] Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990), art. 1. France ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on August 7, 1990.

[7] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside Their Country of Origin, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (September 1, 2005), para. 7.

[8] Ibid., para. 8.

[9] UNICEF and IOM, Harrowing Journeys: Children and Youth on the Move Across the Mediterranean Sea, at Risk of Trafficking and Exploitation (New York and Geneva: UNICEF and IOM, 2017), pp. 6, 10.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Siaka A., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[11] Human Rights Watch interview with Louis M., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteers, Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Emmanuel Effantin, Director of Services of the Cabinet of the Prefect, Gap, France, May 15, 2019. We heard the same from volunteers with the refugee shelter in Briançon. Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Refuge Solidaire, Briançon, France, January 22, 2019. Nationally, 67 percent of all recognized unaccompanied children were from these three countries of origin in 2018. Ministère de la Justice, Direction de la protection judiciaire de la jeunesse, Rapport annuel d’activité 2018 : Mission mineurs non accompagnés, June 2019, p. 7, http://www.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/RAA-MMNA-2018.pdf (accessed August 8, 2019).

[14] See, for example, UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims Under Articles 1(A)(2) and 1(F) of the 1951 Convention and/or 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, U.N. Doc. HCR/GIP/09/08 (December 22, 2009); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 74, 27; Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child) on the General Principles Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration, U.N. Doc. CMW/G/GC/3-CRC/C/GC/22 (November 16, 2017), para. 46.

[15] For a discussion of practical barriers in access to asylum for unaccompanied children, see Human Rights Watch, “Like Living in Hell”: Police Abuses Against Child and Adult Migrants in Calais (New York: Human Rights Watch, July 2017), pp. 36-37.

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with Kebba S., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Malick I., Briançon, France, February 16, 2019.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Louis M., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye M., Gap, France, May 13, 2019.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Yatma K., Gap, France, February 18, 2019.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Samuel A., Gap, France, January 23, 2019.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Boubacar Y., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Ismael K., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[24] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Tahirou B., Veynes, France, May 15, 2019.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Malik R., Gap, France, March 15, 2019.

[26] Human Rights Watch interview with Fabrice M., Briançon, France, July 23, 2019.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousame A., Gap, France, May 14, 2019.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Adama M., Briançon, France, July 23, 2019.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah S., Gap, France, January 23, 2019.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with Louis M., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview Assane B., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[33] UNICEF & REACH, Children on the Move in Italy and Greece: Report (New York and Geneva: UNICEF and REACH, June 2017), p. 3. See also Women’s Refugee Commission, “More Than One Million Pains”: Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys on the Central Mediterranean Route to Italy (New York: Women’s Refugee Commission, March 2019), p. 11.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Aliou M., Briançon, France, January 25, 2019.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Siaka A., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Ismaila D., Gap, France, February 19, 2019.

[37] Huma Rights Watch interview with Musa G., Gap, France, May 16, 2019.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Fode A., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[39] A child is trafficking if the child is recruited, transported, transferred, harbored, or received for the purpose of exploitation. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, November 15, 2000, 2237 U.N.T.S. 319, art. 3(c).

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Kebba S., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Anthony L., Gap, France, February 14, 2019.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Moses P., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Gabriel F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Sékou M., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[47] Human Rights Watch with Louis M., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Oussenyou A., Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Siaka A., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Aliou M., Briançon, France, January 25, 2019.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), January 2019.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousmane A., Gap, France, May 14, 2019.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Ajuma L., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[55] See Human Rights Watch, No Escape from Hell: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya (New York: Human Rights Watch, January 2019).

[56] Ibid.

[57] Claudio Longobardi, Tommaso Gabriele Veronesi, and Laura Elviro Prino, “Abuses, Resilience, Behavioural Problems and Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms Among Unaccompanied Migrant Minors: An Italian Cross-Sectional Exploratory Study,” Psychiatria i Psychologia Kliniczna, vol. 17 (2017), pp. 87, 90, http://www.psychiatria.com.pl/index.php/wydawnictwa/2017-vol-17-no-2/abuses-resilience-behavioural-problems-and-post-traumatic-stress-symptoms-among-unaccompanied-migrant-minors-an-italian-cross-sectional-exploratory-study?aid=663 (accessed April 15, 2019).

[58] UNICEF, A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migration Route (New York: UNICEF, 2017), p. 5.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Ismaila D., Gap, France, February 15, 2019.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Tahirou B., Veynes, France, May 15, 2019.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview Ismaila, Gap, France, February 15, 2019.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Sidiki A., Gap, France, February 15, 2019.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Sékou M., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousseynou K., Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with Sékou M., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Fode A., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Ajuma L., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Mbaye T., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Louis M., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[77] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Daouda G., Gap, France, February 18, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, January 25, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Fode A., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[78] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Isaac T., Briançon, France, July 22, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Ismael K., Briançon, France, January 22, 2019.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousame A., Gap, France, May 14, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Habib F., Gap, France, March 15, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, January 25, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Aliou M., Briançon, France, January 25, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Mbaye T., Gap, France, January 24, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Seydou D., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[80] Sistema di protezione per titolare di protezione internazionale e per minori stranieri non accompagnati (SIPROIMI), I numeri dello Sprar/Siproimi,” January 2019, http://www.sprar.it/i-numeri-dello-sprar (accessed August 5, 2019).

[81] When reception facilities run by the System of Protection for Beneficiaries of Protection and Unaccompanied Minors (Sistema di protezione per titolari di protezione internazionale e minori stranieri non accompagnati, SIPROIMI) do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all unaccompanied children, they may be housed at “first-line” reception centers maintained by the Ministry of the Interior, in principle for no more than 30 days but often in practice for much longer periods. If these “first-line” reception centers are also at capacity, unaccompanied children are held in temporary facilities established by local authorities. European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), Country Report: Italy, Asylum Information Database (Brussels: ECRE, 2019), p. 110; Human Rights Watch interview with Elena Rozzi, ASGI, Turin, Italy, February 15, 2019.

[82] ECRE, Country Report: Italy, pp. 96, 111. See also, for example, Autorità garante per l’infanzia e l’adolescenza, I movimenti dei minori stranieri non accompagnati alle frontiere settentrionali (Rome: Autorità garante per l’infanzia e l’adolescenza, 2019) (finding that unaccompanied children in reception center for adults in Ventimiglia may share rooms with unrelated adults and are not registered with the health service); LasciateCIEntrare, “Migranti: Report della visita della delegazione della campagna LasciateCIEntrare al Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo ‘Sant’Anna,’” October 28, 2018 (observing that a facility for adult asylum seekers in the province of Crotone, in southern Italy, held “numerous” unaccompanied children), https://www.lasciatecientrare.it/migranti-report-della-visita-della-delegazione-della-campagna-lasciatecientrare-al-centro-di-accoglienza-per-richiedenti-asilo-santanna/ (accessed August 5, 2019).

[83] ECRE, Country Report: Italy, p. 103, 104-106, 110-13; Human Rights Watch interview with Elena Rozzi, ASGI, Turin, Italy, February 15, 2019.

[84] InterSOS, L’isola dei minori: l’accoglienza dei minori non accompagnati in Sicilia (Rome: InterSOS, 2019), p. 20.

[85] European Asylum Support Office (EASO), EASO Guidance on Reception Conditions for Unaccompanied Children: Operational Standards and Indicators, EASO Practical Guides Series, December 2018.

[86] European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM(2017) 211 final (April 12, 2017), p.12, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/20170412_communication_on_the_protection_of_children_in_migration_en.pdf (accessed August 26, 2019).

[87] Legge No. 47, Disposizioni in materia di misure di protezione dei minori stranieri non accompagnati (April 7, 2017), in Gazzetta Ufficiale della República Italiana, serie generale, No. 93 (April 21, 2017) (Italy), p. 1, http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/gu/2017/04/21/93/sg/pdf (accessed January 13, 2019).

[88] See, for example, Save the Children, “Minori stranieri non accompagnati, le Associazione: ‘Finalmente una legge per proteggerli,’” March 29, 2017, https://www.savethechildren.it/press/minori-stranieri-non-accompagnati-le-associazioni-%E2%80%9Cfinalmente-una-legge-proteggerli%E2%80%9D (accessed January 13, 2019); UNICEF, “UNICEF Hails New Italian Law to Protect Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Children as Model for Europe,” March 29, 2017, https://www.unicef.org/media/media_95485.html (accessed January 13, 2019).

[89] See Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, “Norme chiare sull’accertamento dell’età dei minori stranieri non accompagnati, ” January 23, 2017, https://www.asgi.it/asilo-e-protezione-internazionale/minori_accertamento_eta_regolamento/ (accessed January 12, 2019); Elena Rozzi, “The New Italian Law on Unaccompanied Minors: A Model for the EU?,” EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, November 13, 2017, http://eumigrationlawblog.eu/the-new-italian-law-on-unaccompanied-minors-a-model-for-the-eu/ (accessed January 12, 2019).

[90] Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, “Se questa è Europa” (“In Italia, invece, permangono gravi disfunzioni nella tutela dei diritti dei minori all’interno dei centri di accoglienza: molti non vengono iscritti a scuola, come prevede la legge, o non ricevono informazioni sulle possibilità di richiedere asilo o ricongiungersi legalmente con la propria famiglia in altri paesi europei.”).

[91] See Oxfam, “Children Alone: Pulled from the Sea, Fallen by the Wayside,” September 8, 2016, https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/children_alone_-_pulled_from_the_sea_fallen_by_the_wayside.pdf (accessed January 13, 2019). See also Human Rights Watch, “Italy : Children Stuck in Unsafe Migrant Hotspot,” June 23, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/23/italy-children-stuck-unsafe-migrant-hotspot.

[92] See Darboe et Camara contre l’Italie, Requête No. 5797/17 (Eur. Ct. H.R. submitted January 18, 2017); Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, “Cona(VE): minorenni nel centro di accoglienza,” January 15, 2017 (unaccompanied children housed with adults in overcrowded emergency reception center in Cona, near Venice, in unsanitary conditions and without adequate heat).

[93] Decreto-Legge 4 ottobre 2018, n. 113, in Gazetta Ufficiale n. 281 (December 3, 2018) (Italy). See Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, “Decreto Immigrazione e Sicurezza, una scheda per operatori a cura dell’ASGI,” November 6, 2018, https://www.asgi.it/asilo-e-protezione-internazionale/sicurezza-immigrazione-decreto-scheda-operatori/ (accessed July 21, 2019); Angela Giuffrida, “Italian Government Approves Salvini Bill Targeting Immigrants,” Guardian, September 24, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/24/italian-government-approves-bill-anti-migrant-measures-matteo-salvini (accessed August 5, 2019); Judith Sunderland (Human Rights Watch), “New Low for Italian Migration Policies,” September 26, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/26/new-low-italian-migration-policies.

[94] See Camera dei deputati, Servizio Studi, “Minori stranieri non accompagnati,” July 19, 2019, p. 3, https://www.camera.it/temiap/documentazione/temi/pdf/1104665.pdf (accessed August 5, 2019).

[95] Ministero dell’Interno, Dipartamento per le libertà civile e l’immigrazione, Struttura di missione per l’accoglienza dei minori stranieri non accompagnati, “Accolienza dei minori stranieri non accompagnati in Italia,” n.d., pp. 2-3, attached to email from Michela Lattarulo, central director of civil services for immigration and asylum, Ministry of the Interior, to Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, September 3, 2019.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Tous Migrants, Oulx, Italy, January 23, 2019.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Jérôme Boni, director, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence Border Police, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[98] Refus d’entrée (Montgenèvre, October 13, 2018, 10 :00 a.m.) (on file with Human Rights Watch); Refus d’entrée (Montgenèvre, October 13, 2018, 10 :25 a.m.) (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[99] Anafé, Persona non grata : conséquences des politiques sécuritaires et migratoires à la frontière franco-italienne (Paris: Anafé, January 2019, p. 65. See also ibid., p. 140 (photo of a refus d’entrée issued April 27, 2018, in Montgenèvre, stating that the individual has an “adult appearance” [“apparence majeur”]).

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Emmanuel Effantin, Director of Services of the Cabinet of the Prefect, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Jérôme Boni, director, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence Border Police, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[102] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.213-2. For a fuller discussion of this process and the procedural protections required by law, see “Protections Against Summary Returns” section, below.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Jérôme Boni, director, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence Border Police, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[104] See “Protection Against Summary Returns” section, below.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, January 25, 2019.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrahim F., Gap, France, March 15, 2019.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Ismaila D., Gap, France, February 15, 2019.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview with Kebba S., Briançon, France, January 23, 2019.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Mbaye T., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayo A., Gap, France, May 13, 2019.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Malick I., Briançon, France, February 16, 2019.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye M., Gap, France, May 13, 2019.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Habib F., Gap, France, March 15, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Fakkeba S., Gap, France, May 13, 2019.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, January 25, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview Malick I., Briançon, France, February 16, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Habib F., Gap, France, March 15, 2019.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Joshua F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[117] Anafé, “Frontière franco-italienne : À Briançon, les violations systématiques des droits des personnes exilées doivent cesser,” October 13, 2018, http://www.anafe.org/spip.php?article497 (accessed June 14, 2019). The 13 organizations were Amnesty International France, Anafé, La Cimade, Médecins du Monde, Médecins sans frontières, Secours Catholique Caritas France, Chemins pluriels, Emmaüs France, GISTI, ASGI, Icare 05, Refuges Solidaires, and Tous Migrants.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Agnès Vibert Guigue, lawyer, Gap, France, May 16, 2019.

[119] See Florence Renard-Gourdon, “Le traitement des mineurs isolés étrangers à Menton pointé du doigt,” Les Echos, November 22, 2018, https://www.lesechos.fr/pme-regions/provence-alpes-cote-dazur/le-traitement-des-mineurs-isoles-etrangers-a-menton-pointe-du-doigt-149585 (accessed August 4, 2019); Mathilde Mathieu, “À la frontière italienne, la police prive des migrants mineurs de leurs droits,” Mediapart, June 5, 2018, https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/050618/la-frontiere-italienne-la-police-prive-des-migrants-mineurs-de-leurs-droits?onglet=full (accessed August 4, 2019) ; Angela Giuffrida, “French Police Accused of Falsifying Migrant Children’s Birth Dates,” Guardian, April 12, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/12/french-police-accused-of-falsifying-migrant-childrens-birth-dates (accessed August 4, 2019).

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, January 29, 2019.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Eva L., Gap, France, July 24, 2019.

[123] The rationale for maintaining immigration controls at land borders has shifted slightly with each renewal, beginning with the Paris attacks (immigration controls from December 14, 2015, to May 26, 2016) and subsequently justified by EURO 2016 and the Tour de France (May 27, 2016, to July 26, 2016), the Nice attack (July 26, 2016, to January 26, 2017), “persistent terrorist threat” (January 27, 2017, to July 15, 2017; November 1, 2017, to April 30, 2018; April 30, 2018, to October 30, 2018), “terrorist threats, situation at the external borders, upcoming high level political meetings” (November 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019), and most recently “terrorist threats, situation at the external borders” (May 1, 2019, to October 31, 2019). Member States’ Notifications of Temporary Reintroduction of Border Controls at Internal Borders Pursuant to Article 25 et seq. of the Schengen Borders Code, n.d., https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/schengen/reintroduction-border-control/docs/ms_notifications_-_reintroduction_of_border_control_en.pdf (accessed June 10, 2019).

[124] Code de procédure penal, art. 78-2. These checks should be limited to no more than 12 consecutive hours in the same place and “may not consist of systematic controls.” Ibid.

[125] Code civil, art. 388. See also Tribunal Administratif [TA] [administrative tribunal] Nice, No. 1800699 (February 23, 2018).

[126] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.213-3-1.

[127] Ibid., arts. L.213-2 and R.213-1.

[128] Ibid., arts. L.213-2 and L.111-7.

[129] Ibid., art. L221-5. Children who are refused entry at a place other than a land border (at an airport, a marine port, or a train station outside of the 10 km border zone) receive the additional procedural protection of a jour franc, a mandatory one-day delay before their return to allow time for legal assistance and the appointment of a guardian. Adults who are refused entry at these places may choose to delay their return by one day. Amendments to the immigration and asylum law that took effect in September 2018 remove this protection for refusals of entry at land borders (as well as for those issued in the overseas department of Mayotte). Loi n° 2018-778 du 10 septembre 2018 pour une immigration maîtrisée, un droit d'asile effectif et une intégration réussie, art. 18, Journal Officiel de la République Française [J.O.] [Official Gazette of France], n° 0209, September 11, 2018, texte n° 1.

[130] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L. 213-2. French law also provides, “The interest of the child, attention to his fundamental, physical, intellectual, social, and emotional needs, as well as the respect of his rights, must guide all decisions concerning him.” Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. L.112-4. 

[131] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, arts. L.521-4 and L.511-4(1).

[132] Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. 112-3. See also Code pénal, art. 434-3.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with Jérôme Boni, director, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes de Haute-Provence Border Police, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[134] Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on Common Procedures for Granting and Withdrawing International Protection (Recast) [Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast)], OJ L 180/60 (June 29, 2013), arts. 6-8; Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 [Dublin III Regulation], OJ L 180/31 (June 29, 2013), art. 8. See also Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 Laying Down Standards for the Reception of Applicants for International Protection (Recast), OJ L 180/96 June 29, 2013), art. 24.

[135] Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 8.

[136] Dublin III Regulation, art. 8.

[137] Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, Avis sur la situation des personnes migrantes à la frontière franco-italienne (Paris: CNCDH, June 2018), pp. 34-35.

[138] Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté, Rapport de visite des locaux de la police aux frontières de Menton (Alpes-Maritimes) – 2eme visite (Paris: Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté, 2017), p. 25.

[139] Défenseur des droits, Décision du Défenseur des droits n° 2018-100, April 25, 2018, p. 2.

[140] Arrêté du 17 novembre 2016 pris en application du décret n° 2016-840 du 24 juin 2016 relatif aux modalités de l'évaluation des mineurs privés temporairement ou définitivement de la protection de leur famille [Order of November 17, 2016, Issued Pursuant to Decree No. 2016-840 of 24 June 2016 on the Modalities for the Evaluation of Minors Temporarily or Permanently Deprived of the Protection of Their Family], art. 9, J.O. n° 0269, November 19, 2016, texte n° 25.

[141] For a fuller discussion of these immediate and long-term services and benefits, see “The Consequences of Incorrect Age Assessments” section, below.

[142] Arrêté [Order] du 17 novembre 2016, arts. 2, 4, 9.

[143] Ibid., art. 3.

[144] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child): State Obligations Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration in Countries of Origin, Transit, Destination and Return, U.N. Doc. CMW/C/GC/4-CRC/C/GC/23 (November 16, 2017), para. 4.

[145] Letter from Jérôme Scholly, director general of services, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2019.

[146] See generally InfoMIE, “Articulation dispositif national de mise à l’abri, d’évaluation et d’orientation des mineurs isolés étrangers et droit comun de la protection de l’enfance,” n.d., http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/schema_dispositif_national_23092013.pdf (accessed June 10, 2019).

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Emmanuel Effantin, Director of Services of the Cabinet of the Prefect, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[148] Letter from Jérôme Scholly, director general of services, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2019, p. 1.

[149] Ministère de la Justice, Direction de la protection judiciaire de la jeunesse, Rapport annuel d’activité 2018: Mission mineurs non accompagnés, June 2019, pp. 11-14, http://www.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/RAA-MMNA-2018.pdf (accessed August 8, 2019).

[150] See Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. L.226-2-1; art. R.221-11. See also InfoMIE, “Dispositifs spécifiques aux mineurs isolés étrangers,” October 22, 2016, http://www.infomie.net/spip.php?rubrique272&lang=fr (accessed June 10, 2019).

[151] Letter from Jérôme Scholly, director general of services, Hautes-Alpes Directorate of Prevention Policy and Social Action, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2019.

[152] Arrêté [Order] du 17 novembre 2016, art. 9.

[153] Children and lawyers showed us identical form letters that gave the following reason for negative age assessments: “Following the assessment of your situation made by the Childhood and Family Service of the Department of the Hautes-Alpes, I inform you that after reviewing your file, it is not possible to establish that you qualify for the protection of the Unaccompanied Minors Unit. Indeed, the elements gathered at the end of the evaluation process, in particular the life history, the conditions of departure, and the migratory route, do not make it possible to find in favor of your minority.”

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, May 15, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with lawyers, Gap, July 23, 2019.

[155] Code civil, art. 375-1. See generally AutonoMIE and InfoMIE, “Saisir le/la juge des enfants,” August 5, 2014, http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/autonomie-guide-fiche2.pdf (accessed June 10, 2019).

[156] See Guardianship Order (Gap Family Court April 11, 2019); Guardianship Order (Gap Family Court November 23, 2018).

[157] See Human Rights Watch, “Like a Lottery”: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris (New York: Human Rights Watch, July 2018), pp. 17-31.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with Gabriel F., Gap, France, January 24, 2019.

[159] Human Rights Watch interview with Sidiki A., Gap, France, February 15, 2019.

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with Ismaila D., Gap, France, February 19, 2019.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with lawyers, Gap, France, May 16, 2019.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), January 2019.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Eva L., Gap, France, July 24, 2019.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Kojo D., Gap, France, February 14, 2019.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousmane A., Gap, France, May 14, 2019.

[166] See, for example, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Mali: Requirements and Procedures to Obtain a National Identity Card, a Birth Certificate and a Certificate of Nationality,” section 2.2; Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Guinea: Requirements and Procedure to Obtain a Birth Certificate Extract, Including from Abroad; Information Indicated on the Document; Incorrect or Fraudulent Birth Certificate Extracts (2009-September 2016), section 3.1, http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=5821dfba4 (accessed April 6, 2018); Mirna Adjami, Statelessness and Nationality in Côte d’Ivoire: A Study for UNHCR (Geneva: UNHCR, December 2016), p. 35.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Ousmane A., Gap, France, May 14, 2019.

[168] Arrêté du 17 novembre 2016, art. 3.

[169] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i); Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[170] Letter from Jérôme Scholly, director general of services, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2019, p. 2.

[171] See, for example, Evaluation Report, March 20, 2019, p. 2; Evaluation Report, March 7, 2019 (Senegalese boy); Evaluation Report, March 7, 2019 (Gambian boy); Evaluation Report, November 6, 2018, p. 3; Evaluation Report, October 23, 2018, p. 2; Evaluation Report, February 16, 2018, p. 3; Evaluation Report, December 15, 2017, pp. 3-4.

[172] Evaluation Report, May 3, 2018, p. 4; Evaluation Report, February 15, 2018, p. 4; Evaluation Report, December 15, 2017, p. 5. In other cases, even when children name the major towns on their journey and describe the vehicles in which they travelled, examiners find that their accounts lack sufficient detail. See, for example, Evaluation Report, October 29, 2018, pp. 3-4 (describing bus journey to Agadez followed by a ride in a pickup truck to Tripoli).

[173] Evaluation Report, February 16, 2018, p. 4; Evaluation Report, December 15, 2017, p. 5.

[174] Evaluation Report, February 15, 2018, p. 4; Evaluation Report, December 4, 2017, p. 3.

[175] Evaluation Report, December 4, 2017, p. 3.

[176] Evaluation Report, October 26, 2017, p. 2.

[177] Evaluation Report, September 14, 2018, p. 2.

[178] Evaluation Report, June 18, 2018, p. 4.

[179] See, for example, Evaluation Report, June 14, 2019, p. 4; Evaluation Report, March 27, 2019; Evaluation Report, November 12, 2018, p. 4; Evaluation Report, October 23, 2018, p. 3.

[180] Evaluation Report, June 4, 2019.

[181] Evaluation Report, March 27, 2019, p. 2. See also Evaluation Report, February 15, 2018. In the case of another Guinean boy, school entry at the age of six was judged “late,” calling his account into doubt, Evaluation Report, November 12, 2018, p. 3, even though other evaluation reports state that “children [in Guinea] begin schooling around the age of six,” Evaluation Report, February 15, 2018.

[182] Evaluations Report, March 27, 2019, p. 4.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Ibid.

[185] Ibid. The evaluation report for a Gambian boy cites the same factor in support of a negative age assessment. Evaluation Report, March 7, 2019, p. 4.

[186] See, for example, Evaluation Report, October 23, 2018, p. 2; Evaluation Report, June 18, 2018, p. 3; Evaluation Report, May 3, 2018, p. 2; Evaluation Report, February 16, 2018, p. 2.

[187] Evaluation Report, October 29, 2018, p. 4.

[188] Evaluation Report, October 23, 2018, p. 5. See also Evaluation Report, September 14, 2018, p. 4.

[189] Evaluation Report, September 20, 2018, p. 3. See also Evaluation Report, September 14, 2018, p. 4.  

[190] Evaluation Report, March 7, 2019, p. 3.

[191] Evaluation Report, March 7, 2019, p. 3.

[192] Evaluation Report, October 29, 2018, p. 2.

[193] Evaluation report, December 4, 2017, p. 3.

[194] Evaluation Report, September 15, 2017, p. 4.

[195] Evaluation Report, June 18, 2018, p. 4.

[196] Evaluation Report, October 26, 2017, p. 3.

[197] Evaluation Report, October 29, 2018, p. 4.

[198] See “Neglect and Abuse in Italy” section, above.

[199] Evaluation Report, September 14, 2018, p. 2.

[200] See, for example, Evaluation Report, December 4, 2017, p. 4.

[201] See, for example, ibid.

[202] Evaluation Report, March 20, 2019, p. 4.

[203] Evaluation Report, October 23, 2018, p. 5.

[204] Evaluation Report, March 20, 2019, p. 4.

[205] Evaluation Report, August 14, 2018, p. 2.

[206] Ibid.

[207] Evaluation Report, October 31, 2018. See also Evaluation Report, March 5, 2019, p. 3.

[208] Evaluation Report, November 12, 2018, p. 4.

[209] Ibid.; Evaluation Report, September 20, 2018, p. 4.

[210] Evaluation Report, August 13, 2018, p. 3; Evaluation Report, June 22, 2018, p.3.

[211] Evaluation Report, August 13, 2018, p. 5.

[212] Human Rights Watch interview with lawyers, Gap, France, May 16, 2019.

[213] Human Rights Watch interview with Yassine Djermoune, lawyer, Gap, France, July 23, 2019.

[214] Ibid.

[215] Human Rights Watch interview with Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, France, January 24, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, France, March 15, 2019.

[216] Unaccompanied children in the Hautes-Alpes are not necessarily seeking asylum in France (in part because entry into the child protection system after formal recognition as a child can provide a basis for regular immigration status upon adulthood), but they arrive in France with many of the same kinds of experiences and mental health outcomes as have been seen in asylum-seeking unaccompanied children elsewhere. See, for example, Marianne Jakobsen, Melinda A.M. Demott, and Trond Heir, “Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders Among Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Adolescents in Norway,” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, vol. 10 (2014), pp. 53-58.

[217] These outcomes for adults with PTSD are well-documented. See, for example, Kristin W. Samuelson, “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Declarative Memory Functioning: A Review,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 13 (2011), pp. 346-51. For studies of children, including adolescents, with PTSD, see R. Schoeman, P. Carey, and S. Seedat, “Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in South African Adolescents: A Case-Control Study of Cognitive Deficits,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 197 (2009), pp. 244-50; A.E. Yasik, P.A. Saigh, R.A. Oberfield, and P.V. Halamandaris, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Memory and Learning Performance in Children and Adolescents,” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 61 (2007), pp. 382-88; A.R. Moradi, H.T. Doost, M.R. Taghavi, W. Yule, and T. Dalgleish, “Everyday Memory Deficits in Children and Adolescents with PTSD: Performance on the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 40 (1999), pp. 357-61.

[218] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Françoise Martin-Cola, Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, France, May 15, 2019.

[219] See Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, “Trauma and Self-Care,” in Manual on Human Rights Monitoring (New York and Geneva: United Nations, 2011), https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Chapter12-MHRM.pdf (accessed July 2, 2019).

[220] Human Rights Watch interview with Amadin N., Gap, France, July 24, 2019.

[221] Human Rights Watch interviews, Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, France, July 24, 2019; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gabriel F., Gap, France, July 24, 2019.

[222] Human Rights Watch interview with Yassine Djermoune, lawyer, Gap, France, July 23, 2019.

[223] Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, Gap, France, May 16, 2019; Human Rights Watch interviews with Réseau Hospitalité, Gap, France, May 15 and July 24, 2019.

[224] Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court, November 12, 2018), p. 2.

[225] Ibid.

[226] Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 11, 2019), p. 2.

[227] Ibid.

[228] See, for example, Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Ivoirian boy), p. 2-3; Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Guinean boy), p. 3; Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 18, 2019) at 2; Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 11, 2019), p. 2; Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court February 18, 2019), p. 2.

[229] Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Guinean boy); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Ivoirian boy); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 18, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 11, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court February 18, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court November 12, 2018); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court November 5, 2018); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court October 5, 2018); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court April 9, 2018).

[230] Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 18, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court February 26, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court February 18, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court November 5, 2018).

[231] Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Guinean boy); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019 (Ivoirian boy); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 18, 2019); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 11, 2109); Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court November 5, 2018).

[232] See Judgment on Educational Assistance (Gap Juvenile Court March 25, 2019) (Guinean boy) at 2.

[233] Human Rights Watch interview with lawyers, Gap, France, May 16, 2019.

[234] Human Rights Watch interview with Eva L., Gap, France, July 24, 2019.

[235] See Guardianship Order (Gap Family Court April 11, 2019); Guardianship Order (Gap Family Court November 23, 2018).

[236] Code de l’éducation, art. L.111-1; Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, Circulaire n° 2012-141, section 1.2 (October 2, 2012).

[237] See Direction des affaires juridiques et Direction des patients, des usagers et des associations, Hôpitaux de Paris, Accueil et accompagnement des mineurs non accompagnés: points de repères juridiques et recommandations (Paris: Hôpitaux de Paris, 2018).

[238] Human Rights Watch interviews, Réseau Hospitalité, January 24, May 15, and July 24, 2019.

[239] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.311-1.

[240] Décret n° 2019-57 du 30 janvier 2019 relatif aux modalités d'évaluation des personnes se déclarant mineures et privées temporairement ou définitivement de la protection de leur famille et autorisant la création d'un traitement de données à caractère personnel relatif à ces personnes [Decree No. 2019-57 of January 30, 2019, on the Evaluation of Persons Declaring Themselves to Be Minors and Temporarily or Permanently Deprived of the Protection of Their Family and Authorizing the Creation of a Database of Personal Data Relating to These Persons], J.O. n° 0026, January 31, 2019, texte n° 37. See also “Le fichier biométrique des ‘mineurs isolés’ déclaré conforme à la Constitution,” Le Monde, July 26, 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2019/07/26/le-fichier-biometrique-des-mineurs-isoles-declare-conforme-a-la-constitution_5493648_3224.html (accessed August 25, 2019). The French Defender of Rights has called for the decree’s repeal. Défenseur des droits, “Le Défenseur des droits demande l’abandon du projet de décret relatif à la mise en œuvre du fichier national biométrique des mineurs non accompagnés,” December 13, 2018, https://www.defenseurdesdroits.fr/fr/communique-de-presse/2018/12/le-defenseur-des-droits-demande-labandon-du-projet-de-decret-relatif-a (accessed August 27, 2019).

[241] Code civil, art. 21-12.

[242] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.313-11(2bis).

[243] Ibid., art. L.313-15.

[244] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 14(1), December 19, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976).

[245] See A.L. v. Spain, Views, Communication No. 16/2017, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/81/D/16/2017 (July 10, 2019), para. 12.10 (noting that “a child’s age and date of birth form part of his or her identity” and finding that Spanish authorities failed to respect the identity of a child by denying that his birth certificate had any probative value); J.A.B. c. España, Dictamen, Comunicación núm. 22/2017, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/81/D/22/2017 (July 9, 2019), para. 13.10 (same). See also European Asylum Support Office (EASO), EASO Practical Guide on Age Assessment, 2d ed., EASO Practical Guides Series (Brussels: EU Publications Office, 2018), p. 16 (“age is an innate characteristic of one’s identity”).

[246] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31.

[247] See ibid., para. 31(i); EASO, EASO Practical Guide on Age Assessment, 2d ed., p. 23; UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 75; UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, February 1997, para. 5.11; UNHCR, Observations on the Use of Age Assessments in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, Case No. CIK-1938/2014 (Lithuanian Supreme Court), June 1, 2015, para. 9(ix).

[248] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[249] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[250] UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11(c).

[251] Heaven Crawley, When Is a Child Not a Child? Asylum, Age Disputes and the Process of Age Assessment (London: Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, 2007), p. 192. She cautions, “Those responsible for the assessment process need to be conscious of the fact that it is abusive for one child to see too many people for a formal assessment interview. However it is perfectly acceptable for those responsible for assessments to take into account the views of other professionals who are in contact with the child for other reasons.” Ibid.

[252] EASO, EASO Practical Guide on Age Assessment, 2d ed., p. 50.

[253] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 17(f); UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 69.

[254] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 25; Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 36; Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 17(d).

[255] UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 72.

[256] UNHCR, Observations on the Use of Age Assessments in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 9(xi). See also Separated Children in Europe Programme, Position Paper on Age Assessment in the Context of Separated Children in Europe, 2012, p. 15, http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ff535f52.html (accessed May 1, 2018).

[257] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21 on Children in Street Situations, U.N. Doc. CR/C/GC/21 (June 21, 2017), para. 12.

[258] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 75. See also ibid., paras. 95-97; Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4; UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 72; Separated Children in Europe Programme, Statement of Good Practice, Part B10.

[259] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[260] UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 75. Accord UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11; UNHCR Observations on the Use of Age Assessment in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, Case No. CIK-1938/2014, para. 9(ii).

[261] Human Rights Watch, “Like a Lottery,” pp. 17-32.

[262] See, for example, Amnesty International, Targeting Solidarity: Criminalization and Harassment of People Defending Refugee and Migrant Rights in Northern France (London: Amnesty International, June 2019); Défenseur des droits, Exilés et droits fondamentaux, trois ans après le rapport Calais (Paris: Défenseur des droits, December 2018); Human Rights Watch, “Like Living in Hell”; Human Rights Watch, “France: Aid Worker Convicted for Tweet,” September 27, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/27/france-aid-worker-convicted-tweet; Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “France Urged by UN Experts to Take Effective Measures to Bring Water and Sanitation Services to Migrants,” April 4, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22917 (accessed June 11, 2019).

[263] See Human Rights Watch, “The Root of Humiliation”: Abusive Identity Checks in France (New York: Human Rights Watch, January 2012).

[264] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 26, 2019.

[265] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker, May 29, 2019.

[266] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[267] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 26, 2019.

[268] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 26, 2019.

[269] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 28, 2019.

[270] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[271] Human Rights Watch interviews, Briançon, France, May 2019.

[272] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, January 29, 2019.

[273] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 30, 2019; Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, February 14, 2019.

[274] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker, May 29, 2019.

[275] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, January 29, 2019.

[276] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker, May 29, 2019.

[277] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 26, 2019.

[278] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with aid worker, May 28, 2019. A vehicle using studded tires should display a disk. Arrêté du 18 juillet 1985 relatif aux dispositifs antidérapants équipant les pneumatiques [Order of July 18, 1985, on Anti-Slip Devices Fitted on Tires], consolidated version, August 16, 2019, art. 6.

[279] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 26, 2019.

[280] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with humanitarian worker, May 29, 2019. French license holders may receive a maximum of 12 points before their licenses are suspended.

[281] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[282] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, January 29, 2019.

[283] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, February 13, 2019.

[284] Conseil Constitutionnel [CC] [Constitutional Court], Décision n° 2018-717/718 QPC, July 6, 2018.

[285] “Aide aux migrants : Cédric Herrou condamné à 3 000 euros d’amende avec sursis,” Le Monde, February 10, 2017, https://www.lemonde.fr/police-justice/article/2017/02/10/aide-aux-migrants-cedric-herrou-condamne-a-30-000-euros-d-amende-avec-sursis_5077536_1653578.html (accessed August 5, 2019).

[286] Luc Leroux, “Coupable d’avoir aidé des migrants, Cédric Herrou ‘continuera à se battre,’” Le Monde, August 8, 2017, https://www.lemonde.fr/immigration-et-diversite/article/2017/08/08/poursuivi-pour-aide-a-l-immigration-clandestine-cedric-herrou-attend-son-jugement-en-appel_5169880_1654200.html (accessed August 5, 2019).

[287] Edouard de Mareschal, “Un enseignant niçois jugé pour avoir aidé des migrants,” Le Figaro, November 23, 2016, http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2016/11/23/01016-20161123ARTFIG00330-un-enseignant-nicois-juge-pour-avoir-aide-des-migrants.php (accessed June 12, 2019).

[288] Pierre-Alain Mannoni, “Pourquoi j’ai secouru des réfugiés,” Mediapart, November 11, 2016, https://blogs.mediapart.fr/pierre-alain-mannoni/blog/111116/pourquoi-j-ai-secouru-des-refugies (June 12, 2019).

[289] Luc Leroux, “Aide aux migrants: prison avec sursis en appel pour un enseignant-chercheur,” Le Monde, September 11, 2017, https://www.lemonde.fr/police-justice/article/2017/09/11/aide-aux-migrants-prison-avec-sursis-en-appel-pour-un-enseignant-chercheur_5184134_1653578.html (accessed June 12, 2019).

[290] “La Cour de cassation annule la condamnation de Cédric Herrou,” Le Figaro, December 12, 2018, http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2018/12/12/01016-20181212ARTFIG00228-la-cour-de-cassation-annule-la-condamnation-de-cedric-herrou.php (accessed June 12, 2019).

[291] Pascale Robert-Diard, “Au procès de la responsable d’Amnesty jugée pour aide aux migrants, le naufrage de l’accusation,” Le Monde, May 30, 2018, https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/05/30/une-responsable-d-amnesty-jugee-pour-son-assistance-a-deux-immigres-mineurs_5307223_3224.html (accessed June 11, 2019);

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, “French Woman Faces Charges for ‘Aiding’ Asylum Seekers,” Al Jazeera, February 12, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/french-woman-faces-charges-aiding-asylum-seekers-180129153709370.html (accessed June 11, 2019).

[292] “Relaxe pour Martine Landry, la bénévole d’Amnesty poursuivie pour ‘délit de solidarité,’” Le Monde, July 14, 2018, https://www.lemonde.fr/police-justice/article/2018/07/14/relaxe-pour-martine-landry-la-benevole-d-amnesty-poursuivie-pour-delit-de-solidarite_5331246_1653578.html (accessed June 11, 2019).

[293] “Aide aux migrants: Martine Landry relaxée, le parquet fait appel,” Le Dauphiné Libéré, July 24, 2018, https://www.ledauphine.com/france-monde/2018/07/24/aide-aux-migrants-martine-landry-relaxee-le-parquet-fait-appel (accessed June 10, 2019) ; Amnesty International, “Martine Landry: L’acharnement judiciaire,” July 24, 2018, https://www.amnesty.fr/refugies-et-migrants/actualites/martine-landry-lacharnement-judiciaire (accessed June 10, 2019).

[294] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Amnesty International France, August 23 and 26, 2019.

[295] See Tribunal de grande instance [TGI] [ordinary court of original jurisdiction] Gap, December 13, 2018, jugement correctionnel, pp. 37-40; Serge Pueyo, “Aide aux migrants: le procès des ‘sept de Briançon’ s’ouvre à Gap,” Le Parisien, November 8, 2018, http://www.leparisien.fr/faits-divers/aide-aux-migrants-le-proces-des-sept-de-briancon-s-ouvre-a-gap-08-11-2018-7937775.php (accessed June 10, 2019); “Aide aux migrants: les ‘sept de Briançon’ condamnés,” Le Monde, December 14, 2018, https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/12/14/aide-aux-migrants-les-sept-de-briancon-condamnes_5397154_3224.html (accessed June 10, 2019). See also Karina Piser, “The Swiftly Closing Borders of Europe,” The Atlantic, December 19, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/12/europe-france-italy-immigration-border/578179/ (accessed June 11, 2019).

[296] Email to Human Rights Watch, June 5, 2019.

[297] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 30, 2019.

[298] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 30, 2019.

[299] “Aide aux migrants: deux militants condamnés à de la prison avec sursis,” Le Monde, January 10, 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/police-justice/article/2019/01/10/aide-aux-migrants-deux-militants-condamnes-a-de-la-prison-avec-sursis_5407459_1653578.html (accessed June 12, 2019).

[300] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Amnesty International France, August 26, 2019.

[301] “Migrants: 7 militants de Roya Citoyenne libres après plus de 24h de garde à vue,” Le Figaro, April 14, 2019, http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/migrants-7-militants-de-roya-citoyenne-libres-apres-plus-de-24h-de-garde-a-vue-20190314 (accessed August 5, 2019).

[302] ReSoma Discussion Brief, “Crackdown on NGOs and volunteers assisting refugees and other migrants,” June 2019, http://www.ismu.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Final-Synthetic-Report-Crackdown-on-NGOs-and-volunteers-helping-refugees-and-other-migrants_1.pdf (accessed July 31, 2019), p. 25. A further 57 people were investigated or prosecuted for facilitating entry, transit, and stay, as well as on other grounds including membership in a criminal organization, sabotage or waste management.

[303] Ibid., p. 26. See also Liz Fekete, Frances Webber, and Anya Edmond-Pettitt, Humanitarianism: The Unacceptable Face of Solidarity (London: Institute of Race Relations, 2017).

[304] Sandie Bircan, “Migrants: les explications du procureur,” Le Dauphiné Libéré, October 15, 2018, https://c.ledauphine.com/hautes-alpes/2018/10/15/migrants-les-explications-du-procureur (accessed June 12, 2019).

[305] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 28, 2019.

[306] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, January 29, 2019.

[307] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with volunteer, May 30, 2019.

[308] Human Rights Watch interview with volunteer, Briançon, France, May 28, 2019.

[309] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.622-1.

[310] Ibid., art. L.622-4.

[311] GISTI, “L’aide à l’entrée ou au séjour irréguliers selon le droit français,” April 27, 2019, https://www.gisti.org/spip.php?article6022 (accessed August 1, 2019).

[312] Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 Defining the Facilitation of Unauthorised Entry, Transit and Residence, OJ L 328/17 (December 5, 2002), art. 1(2).

[313] Ibid., art. 1(1)(a). The directive does require financial gain for the purposes of sanctioning assistance to a person to reside within the territory of a member state, See ibid., art. 1(1)(b).

[314] European Commission, REFIT Evaluation of the EU Legal Framework Against Facilitation of Unauthorized Entry, Transit and Residence: The Facilitators Package (Directive 2002/90/EC and Framework Decision 2002/946/JHA), SWD(2017) 117 final (March 22, 2017), http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/swd/2017/0117/COM_SWD(2017)0117_EN.pdf (accessed August 1, 2019), pp. 14-15. The seven countries are Belgium, Greece, Spain, Finland, Italy, Malta, and the United Kingdom.

[315] Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, November 15, 2000, 2241 U.N.T.S. 507, art. 6(1).

[316] European Commission, REFIT Evaluation, p. 22.

[317] European Parliament Resolution of 5 July 2018 on Guidelines for Member States to Prevent Humanitarian Assistance from Being Criminalised, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2018-0314_EN.html (accessed August 1, 2019).

[318] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Criminalisation of Migrants in an Irregular Situation and of Persons Engaging with Them,” March 2014, p. 16, https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2014/criminalisation-migrants-irregular-situation-and-persons-engaging-them (accessed January 14, 2019).

Similarly, guidelines issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights call on states to “[e]nsure that the organizations and individuals who rescue or provide assistance to migrants are not criminalized or otherwise punished for doing so.” Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Global Migration Group, Principles and Guidelines, Supported by Practical Guidance, on the Human Rights Protection of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations (Geneva: Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, 2018), p. 28, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Migration/PrinciplesAndGuidelines.pdf (accessed January 14, 2019).

[319] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 9, 22; Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 35, para. 17 (noting that arrest as punishment for the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of association, among other rights, is arbitrary).

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Government buses waiting to move families from one camp in Anbar governate to another during a previous wave of camp closures in December 2018. 

© 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Local authorities have forcibly expelled more than 2,000 Iraqis from camps for displaced people in Nineveh governorate since August 23, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

Some were forced to return to their home regions, despite fears for their safety, including from former neighbors who perceive them as being linked to the Islamic State (ISIS). Some have come under attack since being forced home. Authorities in Nineveh have also blocked families who tried to leave the camps to avoid expulsion.

“Displaced people, like all other Iraqis, have the right to move freely in their country and decide where they feel safe to live,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities can’t move people without first consulting them, especially not to places where they and their families face danger.”

Authorities in Salah al-Din have also announced plans to close camps for displaced people or are already forcing people to return to their governorates of origin.

In early July, the National Security Council, which coordinates Iraq's national security, intelligence, and foreign policy strategy, passed “Resolution 16.” The resolution is not public, but officials have described its contents in letters to humanitarian organizations. It orders people from areas other than Nineveh – currently at least 38,040 people – to leave the Nineveh camps. It mandates security forces to develop a database of residents and isolate families who are perceived as ISIS-affiliated. The resolution also calls for increased security to keep people from entering or leaving camps without permission and assigning more police to the camps, to “control” people’s movement and to “assess and audit” the work of nongovernmental organizations who work in the camps.

In response, the authorities began screenings across the Nineveh camps. On August 21, Migration and Displacement Ministry officials informed aid workers at the two camps in Nineveh where screenings had been completed that they intended to expel everyone there from other governorates, starting with those from Anbar governorate, two aid workers said. Anbar is a former ISIS stronghold.

On August 23, security forces from the Nineveh Operations Command expelled 36 families from Anbar, most headed by women, totaling about 150 people , and transported them to their areas of origin in Anbar against their will and without letting them bring their belongings. They were told they were being taken to a camp in Anbar, three families told Human Rights Watch. The families called aid workers to express fears when they found they were actually being taken back home, and aid workers unsuccessfully tried to intervene.

An aid worker in Ramadi said that one of the families fled to a camp for displaced people 25 kilometers away after local residents threatened to kill them because of their perceived ISIS affiliation. Since August 25, 16 families who security forces had taken back to the Haditha area have been living in a public school encircled by police about three kilometers away because they feel unsafe, two told Human Rights Watch. They said that on August 28, someone threw a hand grenade at the school. No one inside was injured.

Two aid workers said that elsewhere in Anbar, local security forces said they denied at least six families entry to their areas of origin because of perceived ISIS affiliation. They said several more families have contacted aid groups asking for help to relocate to nearby camps because they feel unsafe.

Camp management did not have time to issue the deported Anbar families departure letters to help them pass through checkpoints, obtain security clearances in areas they returned to, and to apply for funds available for people returning.

After the expulsions, other families who are not from Nineveh started leaving the camps to avoid expulsion but on August 25, the Iraqi Army’s 16th division ordered camp management in at least two of the camps to prevent families from leaving. The army forced some departing families to return to the camps under threat of arrest, three of the families and aid workers said.

On August 28, security forces forcibly expelled from the same camps 151 families – at least 610 people – originally from Hawija, an area in western Kirkuk that continues to experience ISIS attacks and military operations, to camps in the Kirkuk area, an aid worker there said, causing food shortages in the camps they were transferred to. But two aid workers have since told Human Rights Watch that the Kirkuk governor later agreed to allow the families to continue living in camps there, instead of forcing them to return home.

Security forces also expelled at least another 671 people from Nineveh camps to a camp in Salah al-Din on August 31. Two families said that the morning after they arrived, two grenades hit the camp fence. One man, 50, said that he and other families did not feel safe there after social media posts – some containing veiled execution threats – urged local people to protest the families’ presence. Aid workers present said security forces transferred the families to another Salah al-Din camp on September 2 because of increased security concerns for the families. Residents at the new camp location launched protests when they heard of the families’ arrival.

On September 2, authorities expelled another 481 people from Nineveh camps to Salah al-Din, after keeping them waiting on buses for over five hours without a bathroom, food, or water.

The deputy governor of Salah al-Din, which currently houses at least 105,390 displaced people, told aid workers in June that he aimed to close most displaced people’s camps and informal settlement sites by early September, with statements from local officials in late August and early September that at least two camps would be closed by early September. By August 24, security forces had expelled more than 500 families from an informal settlement in Salah al-Din, an aid worker said.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement ensure displaced people’s rights to free movement and freedom to choose their residence, as well as their right to move freely in and out of camps.

Authorities in Iraq should not force people to return to or remain in specific locations and respect their right to free movement. They should immediately facilitate the return of families who want to return to areas not affected by ongoing military operations. And if authorities cannot ensure families’ safety, they should allow families to remain in or relocate to camps that allow for free movement or other areas where authorities can properly protect them.

In line with these standards, authorities should ensure that displaced people have at least seven days’ notice of their expulsions and provide a range of detailed options for safe assisted relocation. Authorities should ensure that camp management has time to issue departure letters needed to travel, resettle, and apply for assistance, and allow people to take their belongings with them.

“Over the last two weeks government has effectively transferred people into situations where they are being targeted with grenades and death threats,” Fakih said. “Before people board buses provided by the government transporting them from the camps, authorities should clarify where the buses are traveling so families can make an informed decision about how to keep themselves safe.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, in a photo dated May 29, 2019.

© 2019 US Customs and Border Protection via AP, File

(Washington, DC) – A Trump administration administrative rule could result in severe harm to migrant children detained in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today after filing with Amnesty International USA a friend-of-the-court brief on August 30, 2019 in the case. The brief, setting out relevant international human rights standards, supports lawyers for detained children who are challenging the new rule.

Under the new regulation, the government could indefinitely detain children together with their families. The new rule also lacks safeguards, which could further worsen conditions in detention.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to trauma and harm from detention,” said Clara Long, acting deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “No amount of time in detention is safe for children, and indefinite detention significantly increases the risk they will suffer serious, long-lasting harm.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA filed the amicus brief in the federal district court in California that oversees a 1997 settlement agreement governing the treatment of children in immigration detention. Lawyers for children covered by the case, now known as Flores v. Barr, are asking the court to rescind the new regulation as a breach of the 1997 settlement. The law firm Constantine Cannon served as counsel on the brief.

The core principle and requirement of the Flores Agreement is that migrant children taken into detention should be released as “expeditiously” as possible. The new rule provides instead for the indefinite detention of children with their parents in federal immigration facilities pending resolution of their immigration proceedings. In doing so, it seeks to reverse a 2015 court order under the Flores Agreement that children must not be held for more than 20 days in facilities not licensed to care for children.

International human rights standards recognize that immigration-related detention of a child is never in their best interests. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has noted that immigration detention of children puts them at risk of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited under international law. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed that even short-term immigration detention of children may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment because child migrants are “at greater risk of torture and mistreatment owing to their vulnerability and unique needs.”

The US government claims that family detention is needed to ensure that families show up for immigration court for hearings. However, in community-based case management programs, the vast majority of people released from immigration detention show up for their court hearings.

“The administration’s new rule institutionalizes abusive policies against children,” Long said. “Instead of looking for ways to inflict more harsh treatment on children, the government should expand alternatives that allow children and their families to live in communities while their immigration cases are pending.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan departs after speaking about upcoming changes to the Flores ruling at a news conference at the Reagan Building in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
 
(Washington, DC) – A Trump administration final regulation announced today could result in severe harm to migrant children who may be held in immigration detention indefinitely in the United States. The rule seeks to replace the longstanding Flores court settlement that imposed detention standards and time limits.
 
“The detention of children can lead to trauma, suicidal feelings, and exposure to dangerously inadequate medical care,” said Clara Long, acting deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “No amount of time in detention is safe for children and prolonged detention is particularly harmful.”
 
The core principle and requirement of the Flores Agreement is that migrant children taken into detention should be released as “expeditiously” as possible. The new rule provides instead for the indefinite detention of children with their parents in federal immigration facilities pending resolution of their immigration proceedings. In doing so, it seeks to reverse a ruling under the Flores settlement that children not be held for more than 20 days in facilities not licensed for childcare.
 
During a press conference Wednesday morning, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said average stays in 2014 and 2015 for families in detention leading up to that ruling was 50 days.
 
But many families were held for longer than that during 2014 and 2015, according to Human Rights Watch research from the time. Their prolonged detention took a severe psychological toll on them. Other studies of detained immigrant children have also found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and psychologists agree that “even brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children.”
 
“The US government claims family detention is needed to ensure families show up to court,” Long said. “But the government has done nothing to expand community-based case management programs that led the vast majority of people released from immigration detention to show up to court. The government should be dramatically scaling up those programs, not looking for ways to ramp up the abusive detention of children.”
 
Human Rights Watch submitted comments on the Flores regulation when they were proposed last fall, recommending that the administration withdraw the rule and instead dedicate their efforts to advancing policies that safeguard the health, safety, and best interests of children and their families, not least through robust, good-faith compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement.
 
Legal advocates have already filed a notice that they will challenge the rule in court. If not stopped by a judge, the new rule will take effect in 60 days.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In this Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, photo, provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a child colors at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas

© Charles Reed/ US Immigration an Customes Enforcement via AP

Murderous violence. Sexual assault. Criminal gangs. Domestic abuse. Failed governments. Police unwilling or unable to offer protection. These are the reasons child after child gave for coming to the United States in search of safety, as we interviewed them in the US Border Patrol facilities in El Paso, Texas, in June.

Many of the children had plausible claims to asylum that should be seriously considered, and every child had the right to be treated humanely and with dignity. Yet many broke down in tears as they described abuse and severe neglect at the hands of the US government: hunger, cruelty, lice and flu spreading through the cells, and sleeping on concrete floors, in tents, a windowless warehouse, a loading dock. For days. Weeks in some cases. Some described assaults by Border Patrol agents.

“Nobody takes care of us here,” an 11-year-old boy told us. “I try to take care of my little brother and sister since no one will take care of them. There are little kids here who have no one to take care of them . . . . Some kids are only 2 or 3 years old and they have no one to take care of them.”

As the stories unfolded in interview after interview, we wondered what would end the systematic abuse of these children— what combination of public pressure, media attention, legal change, litigation, and other strategies could push officials to do the right thing.

We considered whether international law could help. Probably not, at least not directly. Although the United States has actively participated in building the international legal framework that protects children’s rights, it has been loath to bind its own conduct by international norms.

All of the children we interviewed were without parents, except a few babies and toddlers whose parents were children themselves. We saw older children struggling to care for younger ones, often children they did not know.

After thousands of children were forcibly separated from their families, President Donald J. Trump announced an end to the family separation policy in June 2018 and a federal court ordered the reunification of separated families the same month. And yet child after child sat before us describing when and how US officials forcibly separated them from their families this year.

Children showed us tiny slips of paper they had tucked away in their pockets containing US telephone numbers for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. Sometimes the children recited memorized numbers.

When we used our cell phones so children could speak to their loved ones for the first time in days or weeks, we saw tears and smiles as the calls were immediately answered or returned. Both sides tried to assure the other that they would be together soon, but we, and likely they, knew better.

By law, children shouldn’t be in Border Patrol custody more than 72 hours. The government gets some leeway if the number of arrivals is such that it can’t do that, but children should be promptly transferred to US Department of Health and Human Services custody. From there, children should be reunified with family in the US or, if no family member could care for the child, with another caregiver.

These transfers are supposed to take place as expeditiously as possible, and in no case more than 20 days from the time children enter Border Patrol custody. Earlier this year, the Border Patrol was detaining children for more than 90 days on average, in violation of both these legal limits and the children’s rights.

There are elements of international law that could help. Take, for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. The United States contributed substantially to drafting the convention between 1979 and 1989.

It then took six years for the United States to sign the treaty, in 1995, and since that time, no president has ever sent it to the US Senate for ratification, the formal agreement to be bound by its terms. The United States remains the lone holdout among UN member countries.

Some of the specific terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are now norms of customary international law, meaning that a global consensus has emerged that all countries are obligated to respect certain children’s rights.

An example is the death penalty for crimes committed by children. Only a handful of countries sentence children to death and fewer carry out these sentences—and most of those do so furtively rather than claiming the right to execute juvenile offenders. The Supreme Court opinion striking down the juvenile death penalty in the United States in 2005 cited “the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty,” coming close to but not acknowledging that international consensus was such that a norm of customary international had emerged against the practice.

In the same way that the world has recognized that children should not be executed, it has also recognized that children belong with family, unless that’s not in an individual child’s best interests, and that they should never be abused or neglected.

Additionally, the United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a party to that treaty, United States has agreed to protect the family and to give children special protection.

To be sure, the principle of family unity isn’t an absolute, as the prohibition on the juvenile death penalty is. And abuse and neglect cover a wide range of acts; it’s not always straightforward to determine what conduct amounts to these violations.

Assuming those issues can be resolved, what could be accomplished if one made a strong argument that US violations of children’s rights violated US obligations under international law?

Like many human rights treaties, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was intended to establish international norms. It did not initially have an enforcement mechanism. Instead, states submit country reports for review every five years. An enforcement option recently came into force, but as we might expect given the US failure to ratify the convention itself, the United States has not signed or ratified that protocol.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is just one of many human rights treaties that the US has failed to ratify, including treaties intended to eliminate discrimination against women, to enumerate everyone’s economic, social, and cultural rights, to protect migrant workers and their families, to fortify the rights of people with disabilities, and to establish the International Criminal Court to hold those responsible for war crimes and genocide accountable.

So what international recourse do these children have?

One possibility is the regular accounting every UN member has to make at the Human Rights Council, a process known as Universal Periodic Review. In May 2020, when the United States is up next, every other UN member will be able to ask questions and make comments and recommendations on US respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its voluntary commitments, and its treaty and customary international law obligations. Until mid-September, nongovernmental organizations can submit information—including statements from detained children themselves—to inform these discussions.

Universal Periodic Review is not a court process, and it can’t compel countries to take action. But it’s the only human rights process that covers all UN members, and its scope is broad. There’s a real value in the political pressure of regular review by other countries.

In the near term, real change will most likely have to come through domestic strategies. That means the kind of litigation capably pursued by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. It means Congressional oversight and legal changes to strengthen instead of weaken protections. It means the US government taking on board the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN experts. It means overhauling agencies that have a track record of abuse, and effective internal accountability systems, and prosecution for egregious misconduct.

Most of all, it means public pressure.

That means showing opposition to cruelty—by peaceful protest, by writing or calling lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and by respectful discussion in communities throughout the country.

It means amplifying the voices of detained children and asking others to do the same.

Whatever approaches are used—as many in combination as possible, ideally—they will have to persuade the president and Congress that inhumanity is unacceptable. 

Two successive summers of public outrage have yet to do that. But sooner or later, we will reach a tipping point, hopefully one that persuades policymakers that cruelty to children and their families is a losing proposition.

Michael Garcia Bochenek is senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. Warren Binford is a professor of law and director of the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Lauren Alder Reid 
Assistant Director
Office of Policy
Executive Office for Immigration Review
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2616
Falls Church, VA 22041

August 15, 2019

RE: EOIR Docket No. 19-0504

Dear Ms. Reid:

We are writing to state Human Rights Watch’s opposition to the joint interim final rule, Asylum Eligibility and Procedural Modifications (EOIR Docket No. 19-0504), published by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security in the Federal Register on July 16, 2019.

Human Rights Watch is a non-profit, non-governmental human rights organization that investigates allegations of human rights violations in more than 90 countries around the world, including in the United States, and advocates for laws and policies that ensure respect for those rights.

The interim final rule would seriously undermine the right to seek asylum provided for in international law and would leave Central Americans who would otherwise qualify as refugees without effective protection. The interim final rule is also inconsistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act and should be rescinded.

The regulation would potentially return asylum seekers to third countries that are not safe.

Under existing US law, in conformity with international law and practice, US immigration authorities may return an asylum seeker to a third country that has a formal readmission agreement with the United States and where the asylum seeker would not be persecuted and would have access to a full and fair asylum procedure.

The US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement is the only such agreement that the US government has concluded and implemented with a third country. It states that both parties to the agreement are “determined to safeguard for each refugee status claimant eligible to pursue a refugee status claim who comes within their jurisdiction, access to a full and fair refugee status determination procedure as a means to guarantee that the protections of the [Refugee] Convention, [its] Protocol, and the Torture Convention are effectively afforded.”

If a country is unwilling to agree formally to that guarantee of “a full and fair refugee status determination procedure” to an asylum seeker transferred to it from the United States or unable to provide such protections in practice, the United States should not consider that third country as safe.

As INA 208(a)(2)(A) indicates, a formal agreement, while necessary, is not sufficient to guarantee safety. Even if a country—such as Guatemala—were to agree to examine claims of transferred asylum seekers, the United States would still be required by the terms of the statute to make its own assessment of the capacity and willingness of that state to afford the transferee a full and fair refugee status determination. 

The US has the capacity to fairly and efficiently adjudicate asylum claims and the rule risks transferring this responsibility to countries with less capacity, jeopardizing the rights of asylum seekers. For example, Guatemala is one of the major source countries for asylum seekers to the United States, the fourth highest nationality in 2017.[1] Guatemala lacks the institutional capacity to examine the refugee claims of potentially tens of thousands of people who could be returned if the United States sent back to Guatemala all asylum seekers who had passed through Guatemala en route to the United States. On August 2, 2019, the New York Times reported that Guatemala’s institute responsible for examining asylum claims had a staff of eight that processed 262 cases in 2018, 20 of which were approved, with 234 cases still pending at the time of the report.[2]

With respect to Mexico, the background to the interim final rule, at page 38, provides statistics showing a recent dramatic increase in the number of asylum claims. The Mexican government received 8,789 asylum applications in 2016 but 29,623 applications in 2018. The background note on the rule says “Mexico [is] on track to receive more than 50,000 asylum applications by the end of 2019 if that quarterly pace continues.” What the background to the interim rule does not say is whether the staffing of COMAR, Mexico’s agency responsible for examining asylum claims, has kept pace. Multiple reports, summarized by the New York Times, show that COMAR is not adequately staffed and that its staff is not adequately trained to adjudicate the increased caseload.[3] In addition, asylum seekers encounter physical dangers while waiting for claims to be processed there (or in the United States, under the Migration Protection Protocols).[4]  A recent Washington Post report documents kidnappings and other abuses suffered by Central American asylum seekers in Mexico.[5]

We also take issue with the statement on pages 17-18 of the notice of the interim final rule that it is “consistent with the purpose of the statutory firm-resettlement bar (8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(vi)).” A refugee who is firmly resettled is one who has sought and been offered permanent protection by a third state, not a person who might theoretically have been able to lodge an asylum claim that the receiving state might have had the will and capacity to fully and fairly examine. That Congress expressly made firm resettlement a bar to asylum admissibility clearly shows its intent that anything short of a guarantee of permanent protection or other durable solution for refugees in or by a third country would not be sufficient to consider that country safe and to render an asylum claim from a third country national arriving from that country inadmissible. This is consistent with international standards on effective protection required in the context of a safe third country transfer.  UNHCR states, “Where she or he is entitled to protection, a right of legal stay and a timely durable solution are also required.”[6]

The regulation is inconsistent with the statute

Quoting from the Federal Register notice of this rule, at page 17: “Congress specified that the Attorney General “may provide by regulation for any other conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum,” so long as those limitations are “not inconsistent with this chapter.”  INA 208(d)(5)(B), 8 U.S.C. 1158(d)(5)(B).” The same notice, at page 14, says: “Congress amended section 208 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158, to include the asylum provisions in effect today:  Among other things, Congress designated three categories of aliens who, with limited exceptions, are ineligible to apply for asylum: (1) aliens who can be removed to a safe third country pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement.”

This interim final rule is clearly inconsistent with the statute, which requires “a bilateral or multilateral agreement” with a “safe third country.”

The interim final rule contravenes the right to seek asylum and potentially would result in great harm to asylum seekers and refugees and is inconsistent with the statute.  For these reasons, Human Rights Watch expresses its opposition to the interim final regulation and urges the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to withdraw it.

Sincerely,

Bill Frelick 
Director 
Refugee Rights Program

Nicole Austin-Hillery
Executive Director
US Program


[1] Annual Flow Report: Refugees and Asylees 2017, March 2019, Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security, Table 6a. p. 7 https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Refugees_Asylees_2017.pdf#targetText=Refugees%20and%20Asylees%3A%202017&targetText=The%20leading%20countries%20of%20nationality,admission%20to%20the%20United%20States. (accessed August 15, 2019.)
[2] “Trump Officials Argued Over Asylum Deal with Guatemala. Now Both Countries Must Make It Work,” New York Times, August 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/02/us/politics/safe-third-guatemala.html  (accessed August 15, 2019.)
[3] “A Flawed Asylum System in Mexico, Strained Further by U.S. Changes,” New York Times, August 5, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/05/world/americas/mexico-central-america-migrants-refugees-asylum-comar.html (accessed August 15, 2019.)
[4] “We Can’t Help You Here:” US Return of Asylum Seekers to Mexico. Human Rights Watch, July 2, 2019 https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/07/02/we-cant-help-you-here/us-returns-asylum-seekers-mexico#189b7f (accessed August 15, 2019.)
[5] “When they filed their asylum claim, they were told to wait in Mexico. There, they say, they were kidnapped,” Washington Post, August 10, 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/when-they-filed-their-asylum-claim-they-were-told-to-wait-in-mexico-there-they-say-they-were-kidnapped/2019/08/09/6133c2d6-b95f-11e9-8e83-4e6687e99814_story.html?noredirect=on (accessed August 15, 2019.)
[6] “Legal considerations on the return of asylum-seekers and refugees from Greece to Turkey as part of the EU-Turkey Cooperation in Tackling the Migration Crisis under the safe third country and first country of asylum concept,” UNHCR, March 23, 2016 https://www.unhcr.org/56f3ec5a9.pdf (accessed August 15, 2019.)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

African migrants receive food and water inside a football stadium in the Red Sea port city of Aden in Yemen, on April 23, 2019.

© AFP/Getty Images
(Addis Ababa) – Ethiopians undertaking the perilous journey by boat across the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden face exploitation and torture in Yemen by a network of trafficking groups, Human Rights Watch said today. They also encounter abusive prison conditions in Saudi Arabia before being summarily forcibly deported back to Addis Ababa. Authorities in Ethiopia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia have taken few if any measures to curb the violence migrants face, to put in place asylum procedures, or to check abuses perpetrated by their own security forces.

A combination of factors, including unemployment and other economic difficulties, drought, and human rights abuses have driven hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to migrate over the past decade, traveling by boat over the Red Sea and then by land through Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states are favored destinations because of the availability of employment. Most travel irregularly and do not have legal status once they reach Saudi Arabia.

“Many Ethiopians who hoped for a better life in Saudi Arabia face unspeakable dangers along the journey, including death at sea, torture, and all manners of abuses,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Ethiopian government, with the support of its international partners, should support people who arrive back in Ethiopia with nothing but the clothes on their back and nowhere to turn for help.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 12 Ethiopians in Addis Ababa who had been deported from Saudi Arabia between December 2018 and May 2019. Human Rights Watch also interviewed humanitarian workers and diplomats working on Ethiopia migration-related issues.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates as many as 500,000 Ethiopians were in Saudi Arabia when the Saudi government began a deportation campaign in November 2017. The Saudi authorities have arrested, prosecuted, or deported foreigners who violate labor or residency laws or those who crossed the border irregularly. About 260,000 Ethiopians, an average of 10,000 per month, were deported from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia between May 2017 and March 2019, according to the IOM, and deportations have continued.

An August 2 Twitter update by Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said that police had arrested 3.6 million people, including 2.8 million for violations of residency rules, 557,000 for labor law violations, and 237,000 for border violations. In addition, authorities detained 61,125 people for crossing the border into Saudi Arabia illegally, 51 percent of them Ethiopians, and referred more than 895,000 people for deportation. Apart from illegal border crossing, these figures are not disaggregated by nationality.

Eleven of the 12 people interviewed who had been deported had engaged with smuggling and trafficking networks that are regionally linked across Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland state, the self-declared autonomous state of Somaliland, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Traffickers outside of Ethiopia, particularly in Yemen, often used violence or threats to extort ransom money from migrants’ family members or contacts, those interviewed told Human Rights Watch. The 12th person was working in Saudi Arabia legally but was deported after trying to help his sister when she arrived illegally.

Those interviewed described life-threatening journeys as long as 24 hours across the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, in most cases in overcrowded boats, with no food or water, and prevented from moving around by armed smugglers.

“There were 180 people on the boat, but 25 died,” one man said. “The boat was in trouble and the waves were hitting it. It was overloaded and about to sink so the dallalas [an adaptation of the Arabic word for “middleman” or “broker”] picked some out and threw them into the sea, around 25.”

Interviewees said they were met and captured by traffickers upon arrival in Yemen. Five said the traffickers physically assaulted them to extort payments from family members or contacts in Ethiopia or Somalia. While camps where migrants were held capture were run by Yemenis, Ethiopians often carried out the abuse. In many cases, relatives said they sold assets such as homes or land to obtain the ransom money.

After paying the traffickers or escaping, the migrants eventually made their way north to the Saudi-Yemen border, crossing in rural, mountainous areas. Interviewees said Saudi border guards fired at them, killing and injuring others crossing at the same time, and that they saw dead bodies along the crossing routes. Human Rights Watch has previously documented Saudi border guards shooting and killing migrants crossing the border.

“At the border there are many bodies rotting, decomposing,” a 26-year-old man said: “It is like a graveyard.”

Six interviewees said they were apprehended by Saudi border police, while five successfully crossed the border but were later arrested. They described abusive prison conditions in several facilities in southern Saudi Arabia, including inadequate food, toilet facilities, and medical care; lack of sanitation; overcrowding; and beatings by guards.

Planes returning people deported from Saudi Arabia typically arrive in Addis Ababa either at the domestic terminal or the cargo terminal of Bole International Airport. Several humanitarian groups conduct an initial screening to identify the most vulnerable cases, with the rest left to their own devices. Aid workers in Ethiopia said that deportees often arrive with no belongings and no money for food, transportation, or shelter. Upon arrival, they are offered little assistance to help them deal with injuries or psychological trauma, or to support transportation to their home communities, in some cases hundreds of kilometers from Addis Ababa.

Human Rights Watch learned that much of the migration funding from Ethiopia’s development partners is specifically earmarked to manage migration along the routes from the Horn of Africa to Europe and to assist Ethiopians being returned from Europe, with very little left to support returnees from Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has summarily returned hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to Addis Ababa who have little to show for their journey except debts and trauma,” Horne said. “Saudi Arabia should protect migrants on its territory and under its control from traffickers, ensure there is no collusion between its agents and these criminals, and provide them with the opportunity to legally challenge their detention and deportation.”

All interviews were conducted in Amharic, Tigrayan, or Afan Oromo with translation into English. The interviewees were from the four regions of SNNPR (Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region), Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray. These regions have historically produced the bulk of Ethiopians migrating abroad. To protect interviewees from possible reprisals, pseudonyms are being used in place of their real names. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Ethiopian and Saudi governments seeking comment on abuses described by Ethiopian migrants along the Gulf migration route, but at the time of writing neither had responded.

Migration routes between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia

© Human Rights Watch

Dangerous Boat Journey

Most of the 11 people interviewed who entered Saudi Arabia without documents described life-threatening boat journeys across the Red Sea from Djibouti, Somaliland, or Puntland to Yemen. They described severely overcrowded boats, beatings, and inadequate food or water on journeys that ranged from 4 to 24 hours. These problems were compounded by dangerous weather conditions or encounters with Saudi/Emirati-led coalition naval vessels patrolling the Yemeni coast.

“Berhanu” said that Somali smugglers beat people on his boat crossing from Puntland: “They have a setup they use where they place people in spots by weight to keep the boat balanced. If you moved, they beat you.” He said that his trip was lengthened when smugglers were forced to turn the boat around after spotting a light from a naval vessel along the Yemeni coast and wait several hours for it to pass.

Since March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of countries in a military campaign against the Houthi armed group in Yemen. As part of its campaign the Saudi/Emirati-led coalition has imposed a naval blockade on Houthi-controlled Yemeni ports, purportedly to prevent Houthi rebels from importing weapons by sea, but which has also restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians in the country, and included attacks on civilians at sea. Human Rights Watch previously documented a helicopter attack in March 2017 by coalition forces on a boat carrying Somali migrants and refugees returning from Yemen, killing at least 32 of the 145 Somali migrants and refugees on board and one Yemeni civilian. 

Exploitation and Abuses in Yemen

Once in war-torn Yemen, Ethiopian migrants said they faced kidnappings, beatings, and other abuses by traffickers trying to extort ransom money from them or their family members back home.

This is not new. Human Rights Watch, in a 2014 report, documented abuses, including torture, of migrants in detention camps in Yemen run by traffickers attempting to extort payments. In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented how Yemeni guards tortured and raped Ethiopian and other Horn of Africa migrants at a detention center in Aden and worked in collaboration with smugglers to send them back to their countries of origin. Recent interviews by Human Rights Watch indicate that the war in Yemen has not significantly affected the abuses against Ethiopians migrating through Yemen to Saudi Arabia. If anything, the conflict, which escalated in 2015, has made the journey more dangerous for migrants who cross into an area of active fighting.

Seven of the 11 irregular migrants interviewed said they faced detention and extortion by traffickers in Yemen. This occurred in many cases as soon as they reached shore, as smugglers on boats coordinated with the Yemeni traffickers. Migrants said that Yemeni smuggling and trafficking groups always included Ethiopians, often one from each of Oromo, Tigrayan, and Amhara ethnic groups, who generally were responsible for beating and torturing migrants to extort payments. Migrants were generally held in camps for days or weeks until they could provide ransom money, or escape. Ransom payments were usually made by bank transfers from relatives and contacts back in Ethiopia.

“Abebe” described his experience:

When we landed… [the traffickers] took us to a place off the road with a tent. Everyone there was armed with guns and they threw us around like garbage. The traffickers were one Yemeni and three Ethiopians – one Tigrayan, one Amhara, and one Oromo…. They started to beat us after we refused to pay, then we had to call our families…. My sister [in Ethiopia] has a house, and the traffickers called her, and they fired a bullet near me that she could hear. They sold the house and sent the money [40,000 Birr, US $1,396].

“Tesfalem”, said that he was beaten by Yemenis and Ethiopians at a camp he believes was near the port city of Aden:

They demanded money, but I said I don’t have any. They told me to make a call, but I said I don’t have relatives. They beat me and hung me on the wall by one hand while standing on a chair, then they kicked the chair away and I was swinging by my arm. They beat me on my head with a stick and it was swollen and bled.

He escaped after three months, was detained in another camp for three months more, and finally escaped again.

“Biniam” said the men would take turns beating the captured migrants: “The [Ethiopian] who speaks your language beats you, those doing the beating were all Ethiopians. We didn’t think of fighting back against them because we were so tired, and they would kill you if you tried.”

Two people said that when they landed, the traffickers offered them the opportunity to pay immediately to travel by car to the Saudi border, thereby avoiding the detention camps. One of them, “Getachew,” said that he paid 1,500 Birr (US $52) for the car and escaped mistreatment.

Others avoided capture when they landed, but then faced the difficult 500 kilometer journey on foot with few resources while trying to avoid capture.

Dangers faced by Yemeni migrants traveling north were compounded for those who ran into areas of active fighting between Houthi forces and groups aligned with the Saudi/Emirati-led coalition. Two migrants said that their journey was delayed, one by a week, the other by two months, to avoid conflict areas. 

Migrants had no recourse to local authorities and did not report abuses or seek assistance from them. Forces aligned with the Yemeni government and the Houthis have also detained migrants in poor conditions, refused access to protection and asylum procedures, deported migrants en masse in dangerous conditions, and exposed them to abuse. In April 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that Yemeni government officials had tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in a detention center in the southern port city of Aden. The detention center was later shut down.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced in May that it had initiated a program of voluntary humanitarian returns for irregular Ethiopian migrants held by Yemeni authorities at detention sites in southern Yemen. IOM said that about 5,000 migrants at three sites were held in “unsustainable conditions,” and that the flights from Aden to Ethiopia had stalled because the Saudi/Emirati-led coalition had failed to provide the flights the necessary clearances. The coalition controls Yemen’s airspace.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen border area

© Human Rights Watch

Crossing the Border; Abusive Detention inside Saudi Arabia

Migrants faced new challenges attempting to cross the Saudi-Yemen border. The people interviewed said that the crossing points used by smugglers are in rural, mountainous areas where the border separates Yemen’s Saada Governorate and Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Province. Two said that smugglers separated Ethiopians by their ethnic group and assigned different groups to cross at different border points.

Ethiopian migrants interviewed were not all able to identify the locations where they crossed. Most indicated points near the Yemeni mountain villages Souq al-Ragu and ‘Izlat Al Thabit, which they called Ragu and Al Thabit. Saudi-aligned media have regularly characterized Souq al-Ragu as a dangerous town from which drug smugglers and irregular migrants cross into Saudi Arabia.

Migrants recounted pressures to pay for the crossing by smuggling drugs into Saudi Arabia. “Abdi” said he stayed in Souq al-Ragu for 15 days and finally agreed to carry across a 25 kilogram sack of khat in exchange for 500 Saudi Riyals (US$133). Khat is a mild stimulant grown in the Ethiopian highlands and Yemen; it is popular among Yemenis and Saudis, but illegal in Saudi Arabia.

“Badessa” described Souq al-Ragu as “the crime city:”

You don’t know who is a trafficker, who is a drug person, but everybody has an angle of some sort. Even Yemenis are afraid of the place, it is run by Ethiopians. It is also a burial place; bodies are gathered of people who had been shot along the border and then they’re buried there. There is no police presence.

Four of the eleven migrants who crossed the border on foot said Saudi border guards shot at them during their crossings, sometimes after ordering them to stop and other times without warning. Some said they encountered dead bodies along the way. Six said they were apprehended by Saudi border guards or drug police at the border, while five were arrested later.

“Abebe” said that Saudi border guards shot at his group as they crossed from Izlat Al Thabit:

They fired bullets, and everyone scattered. People fleeing were shot, my friend was shot in the leg…. One person was shot in the chest and killed and [the Saudi border guards] made us carry him to a place where there was a big excavator. They didn’t let us bury him; the excavator dug a hole and they buried him.

Berhanu described the scene in the border area: “There were many dead people at the border. You could walk on the corpses. No one comes to bury them.”

Getachew added: “It is like a graveyard. There are no dogs or hyenas there to eat the bodies, just dead bodies everywhere.”

Two of the five interviewees who crossed the border without being detained said that Saudi and Ethiopian smugglers and traffickers took them to informal detention camps in southern Saudi towns and held them for ransom. “Yonas” said they took him and 14 others to a camp in the Fayfa area of Jizan Province: “They beat me daily until I called my family. They wanted 10,000 Birr ($349). My father sold his farmland and sent the 10,000 Birr, but then they told me this isn’t enough, we need 20,000 ($698). I had nothing left and decided to escape or die.” He escaped.

Following their capture, the migrants described abusive conditions in Saudi governmental detention centers and prisons, including overcrowding and inadequate food, water, and medical care. Migrants also described beatings by Saudi guards.

Nine migrants who were captured while crossing the border illegally or living in Saudi Arabia without documentation spent up to five months in detention before authorities deported them back to Ethiopia. The three others were convicted of criminal offenses that included human trafficking and drug smuggling, resulting in longer periods in detention before being deported.

The migrants identified about 10 prisons and detention centers where they were held for various periods. The most frequently cited were a center near the town of al-Dayer in Jizan Province along the border, Jizan Central Prison in Jizan city, and the Shmeisi Detention Center east of Jeddah, where migrants are processed for deportation.

Al-Dayer had the worst conditions, they said, citing overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, food and water, and medical care. Yonas said:

They tied our feet with chains and they beat us while chained, sometimes you can’t get to the food because you are chained. If you get chained by the toilet it will overflow and flow under you. If you are aggressive you get chained by the toilet. If you are good [behave well], they chain you to another person and you can move around.

Abraham had a similar description:

The people there beat us. Ethnic groups [from Ethiopia] fought with each other. The toilet was overflowing. It was like a graveyard and not a place to live. Urine was everywhere and people were defecating. The smell was terrible.

Other migrants described similarly bad conditions in Jizan Central Prison. “Ibrahim” said that he was a legal migrant working in Saudi Arabia, but that he travelled to Jizan to help his sister, whom Saudi authorities had detained after she crossed from Yemen illegally. Once in Jizan, authorities suspected him of human trafficking and arrested him, put him on trial, and sentenced him to two years in prison, a sentenced he partially served in Jizan Central Prison:

Jizan prison is so very tough…. You can be sleeping with [beside] someone who has tuberculosis, and if you ask an official to move you, they don’t care. They will beat you. You can’t change clothes, you have one set and that is it, sometimes the guards will illegally bring clothes and sell to you at night.

He also complained of overcrowding: “When you want to sleep you tell people and they all jostle to make some room, then you sleep for a bit but you wake up because everyone is jostling against each other.”

Most of the migrants said food was inadequate. Yonas described the situation in al-Dayer: “When they gave food 10 people would gather and fight over it. If you don’t have energy you won’t eat. The fight is over rice and bread.”

Detainees also said medical care was inadequate and that detainees with symptoms of tuberculosis (such as cough, fever, night sweats, or weight loss) were not isolated from other prisoners. Human Rights Watch interviewed three former detainees who were being treated for tuberculosis after being deported, two of whom said they were held with other detainees despite having symptoms of active tuberculosis.

Detainees described being beaten by Saudi prison guards when they requested medical care. Abdi said:

I was beaten once with a stick in Jizan that was like a piece of rebar covered in plastic. I was sick in prison and I used to vomit. They said, ‘why do you do that when people are eating?’ and then they beat me harshly and I told him [the guard], ‘Please kill me.’ He eventually stopped.

Ibrahim said he was also beaten when he requested medical care for tuberculosis:

[Prison guards] have a rule that you aren’t supposed to knock on the door [and disturb the guards]. When I got sick in the first six months and asked to go to the clinic, they just beat me with electric wires on the bottom of my feet. I kept asking so they kept beating.

Detainees said that the other primary impetus for beatings by guards was fighting between different ethnic groups of Ethiopians in detention, largely between ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and Tigrayans. Ethnic tensions are increasingly common back in Ethiopia.

Detainees said that conditions generally improved once they were transferred to Shmeisi Detention Center, near Jeddah, where they stayed only a few days before receiving temporary travel documents from Ethiopian consular authorities and deported to Ethiopia. The migrants charged with and convicted of crimes had no opportunity to consult legal counsel.

None of the migrants said they were given the opportunity to legally challenge their deportations, and Saudi Arabia has not established an asylum system under which migrants could apply for protection from deportation where there was a risk of persecution if they were sent back. Saudi Arabia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Deportation and Future Prospects

Humanitarian workers and diplomats told Human Rights Watch that since the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s deportation campaign, large numbers of Ethiopian deportees have been transported via special flights by Saudia Airlines to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa and unloaded in a cargo area away from the main international terminal or at the domestic terminal. When Human Rights Watch visited in May, it appeared that the Saudi flights were suspended during the month of Ramadan, during which strict sunrise-to-sunset fasting is observed by Muslims. All interviewees who were deported in May said they had returned on regular Ethiopian Airlines commercial flights and disembarked at the main terminal with other passengers.

All of those deported said that they returned to Ethiopia with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and that Saudi authorities had confiscated their mobile phones and in some cases shoes and belts. “After staying in Jeddah … they had us make a line and take off our shoes,” Abraham said. “Anything that could tie like a belt we had to leave, they wouldn’t let us take it. We were barefoot when we went to the airport.”

Deportees often have critical needs for assistance, including medical care, some for gunshot wounds. One returnee recovering from tuberculosis said that he did not have enough money to buy food and was going hungry. Abdi said that when he left for Saudi Arabia he weighed 64 kilograms but returned weighing only 47 or 48 kilograms.

Aid workers and diplomats familiar with migration issues in Ethiopia said that very little international assistance is earmarked for helping deportees from Saudi Arabia for medical care and shelter or money to return and reintegrate in their home villages.

Over 8 million people are in need of food assistance in Ethiopia, a country of over 100 million. It hosts over 920,000 refugees from neighboring countries and violence along ethnic lines produced over 2.4 internally displaced people in 2018, many of whom have now been returned.

The IOM registers migrants upon arrival in Ethiopia and to facilitate their return from Saudi Arabia. Several hours after their arrival and once registered, they leave the airport and must fend for themselves. Some said they had never been to Addis before.

In 2013 and 2014, Saudi Arabia conducted an expulsion campaign similar to the one that began in November 2017. The earlier campaign expelled about 163,000 Ethiopians, according to the IOM. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report found that migrants experienced serious abuses during detention and deportation, including attacks by security forces and private citizens in Saudi Arabia, and inadequate and abusive detention conditions. Human Rights Watch has also previously documented mistreatment of Ethiopian migrants by traffickers and government detention centers in Yemen.

Aid workers and diplomats said that inadequate funding to assist returning migrants is as a result of several factors, including a focus of many of the European funders on stemming migration to and facilitating returns from Europe, along with competing priorities and the low visibility of the issue compared with migration to Europe.

During previous mass returns from Saudi Arabia, there was more funding for reintegration and more international media attention in part because there was such a large influx in a short time, aid workers said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Workers are escorted onto a bus for transportation to a processing center following a raid by US immigration officials at a Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Mississippi, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

On Wednesday, United States immigration authorities arrested 680 people during raids on 7 food processing plants across the state of Mississippi, in what is likely the largest workplace immigration raid in the US in over a decade.

Like many dangerous, demanding, and dirty low-wage industries, the meat industry in the US relies heavily on immigrant labor, and immigration enforcement authorities have routinely carried out high-profile, mass arrests of workers in meat and poultry plants.

A May 2008 raid on a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa had been the largest workplace raid until now. And in April 2018, immigration authorities arrested nearly 100 workers at a cattle slaughtering and processing plant near Morristown, Tennessee.

I spoke with some of the workers arrested in Morristown, as well as their families and community members, for an upcoming Human Rights Watch report on workers’ rights in US meat and poultry plants. The interviews made clear that workplace raids like these tear apart families and communities, which must continue to cope with their traumatic effects long after immigration officials are gone.

Wednesday’s raid will affect immigrants around the country who work each day to prepare the meat Americans consume. Many of the meat and poultry plant workers who spoke with Human Rights Watch were afraid of employer retaliation, regardless of their immigration status. They said that fear of immigration enforcement as a tool of retaliation prevents many immigrant workers from reporting workplace abuses.

“We don’t work with our real names, so we are afraid,” said an undocumented worker from a chicken plant in North Carolina. “We don’t have the right to speak up.” The fact that Wednesday’s raid in Mississippi included a plant that recently settled a class action employment discrimination lawsuit for USD$3.75 million may confirm this fear for many workers.

The US government cannot adequately protect the safety of workers in plants like those raided this week unless its immigration policies ensure immigrant workers are able to speak up without fear of reprisal.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Video: Attacks on Civilians in Border Area in Colombia

Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said. 

(Bogotá) – Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, northeastern Colombia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 64-page report, “The War in Catatumbo: Abuses by Armed Groups Against Civilians Including Venezuelan Exiles in Northeastern Colombia,” documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims.

“As armed groups fight for the void left by the FARC in Catatumbo, hundreds of civilians have been caught in the conflict,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Venezuelans who are fleeing the humanitarian emergency in their own country are being caught in this nexus of war and desperate flight.”

Graffiti on the wall of a brothel in Convención in the Catatumbo region, where most women working were Venezuelan exiles. The EPL (Popular Liberation Army) is one of the armed groups operating in the area.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Violence and abuses have increased in Catatumbo since the FARC demobilized in 2017 as part of its peace accord with the government. The Colombian government is falling short on its human rights obligations to protect civilians from abuses and to provide victims with redress. 

In April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 people, including abuse victims, their relatives, community leaders, church representatives, human rights officials, local authorities, justice officials, and members of humanitarian and human rights organizations working in the area. Interviews were conducted in Catatumbo, as well as some in Cúcuta, the capital of North Santander province, and some by telephone.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed official reports and statistics, publications by nongovernmental and international organizations, and written testimony given to government officials by almost 500 victims of abuses committed in the context of the armed conflict. The total number of cases is most likely higher than that recorded by government authorities, given victims’ fear of retaliation by armed groups for exposing abuses, or Venezuelan victims’ fear of deportation.

“Those who are part of the conflict do not suffer what we, as the people in the countryside …, suffer,” said a teacher in a rural school who lost his foot when a landmine exploded just meters from the school grounds. “We are the ones paying for a conflict that they started.”

Limited immigration controls and better-paying jobs attract Venezuelans to the Catatumbo borderlands. At least 25,000 Venezuelans live in Catatumbo, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Desperate and often undocumented Venezuelans have been among those forcibly displaced and killed, and Venezuelan children have been recruited as soldiers.

In Catatumbo, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes since 2017 – the majority during 2018 – according to government statistics. Some have been forcibly displaced. People have fled after armed groups threatened them for allegedly cooperating with competing armed groups or the government. People have also fled after being threatened for refusing to join an armed group.

OCHA reported that 109 people it considered civilians were killed by armed groups in 2018 alone. Armed groups have killed nine human rights defenders and community leaders, according to investigations by Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Community leaders play a fundamental role to give voice to abuse victims and help reinstate the rule of law in remote areas of Colombia,” Vivanco said. “The Colombian government should increase its efforts to protect them and ensure that those responsible for these murders are held to account.”

Armed groups have been implicated in kidnappings and disappearances, as well as rape and other sexual violence.

Children as young as 12 have been forced to join an armed group after members threaten to kill them or their families, or they join for money. Human Rights Watch reviewed testimony in a dozen cases in which families fled after an armed group threatened or attempted to recruit a child.

Armed groups are also reportedly planting antipersonnel landmines in rural areas of Catatumbo, where the FARC had also previously used landmines. Four people have died and 65 have been injured by antipersonnel landmines in Catatumbo since 2017.

Colombian authorities have thus far failed to ensure justice for abuses committed by armed groups. As of April 2019, there were over 770 cases related to murders that occurred in Catatumbo since 2017. There have been convictions in 61 cases. Only two armed group members have been charged with murder, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The office has not charged anyone for threats, recruitment of children as soldiers, or enforced disappearances, which, under Colombian law, may be committed by both state and private actors. Two armed group members have been charged for forced displacement, but no one has been convicted; 480 cases remain pending.

Assistance to the displaced, provided for under Colombian law, has been slow and insufficient, said humanitarian workers in the region. Hundreds of people have lived in temporary shelters improvised by communities. Some shelters lacked furniture or running water. Authorities have also failed to adequately address risks to human rights identified by the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.

In October 2018, the Colombian government created a Rapid Deployment Force to increase the number of military officers in Catatumbo by 5,600. Residents, human rights officials, and humanitarian workers have reported abusive behavior by soldiers directed at civilians, including accusing them of being complicit with guerrilla groups and questioning them at military checkpoints, exposing them to retaliation by armed groups. In April 2019, a soldier killed a demobilized FARC member.

To comply with its obligations under international and Colombian law, the Colombian government should put in place human rights-respecting strategies for the military and police to protect civilians. It should provide further support to prosecutors investigating abuses by armed groups and seek international support to aid people who have been displaced. It should also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the number of Venezuelans living in Catatumbo and their needs, and ensure that all Venezuelans can work legally in Colombia, including in safer parts of the country.

“The government’s efforts to increase its presence in Catatumbo through deploying the military needs to go hand-in-hand with broader efforts – like support for criminal investigations and humanitarian assistance – to protect the rights of farmers and Venezuelan exiles there,” Vivanco said.

For selected cases documented by Human Rights Watch, see below.

Beatriz (pseudonym) was raped in mid-2017. That day, she was at her job as a cook for agricultural laborers. Her husband was working on the same farm. At around 5 p.m., a group of uniformed men, their faces hidden under balaclavas, arrived, shouting why “the fuck” hadn’t the couple left since they had been “warned.” They asked if anyone else was on the farm. Beatriz’s husband said no, to protect the other workers.

The guerrillas sent men to look. Four, who had the ELN logo on their clothes, stayed. Two of them sexually assaulted Beatriz as the others made her husband watch. Beatriz lost consciousness and woke up two hours later in her husband’s arms. They fled to a nearby city, and, she said, only reported the incident several months later because of the shame and psychological trauma.

Dalila (pseudonym) lived between two mountain ridges where armed groups operate. The groups often fight among themselves, she reported to authorities, and the walls of her house are full of holes from the shootouts. One afternoon in early 2018, three men arrived at her house. They were armed and wearing uniforms, but Dalila said she did not know to which group they belonged. They told her they were going to take her oldest children, who were 17 and 14. Dalila said she told them they would have to kill her first. The men said she had a few hours to leave. She sent her two sons to another municipality where her sister lived. Dalila went back to sell her animals and fled to a nearby city. 

Alejandro Rodríguez (pseudonym), 34, is a primary teacher at a rural school in Catatumbo. Around 1 p.m. on February 5, 2019, Rodríguez went to look for a soccer ball that a student had kicked off school grounds, about 15 meters from where the students were playing. Rodríguez stepped on something that exploded, likely a landmine. Neighbors helped him get to the nearest town, several hours away. He lost his foot.

When we interviewed him in April, he said that nobody from the government had visited the area in the two months after the incident to see if there were other landmines near the school. He said he had moved to an urban area to receive medical treatment. In his rural community, he had heard shots nearly every day and children feared going to school, Rodríguez said.

Henry Pérez Ramírez, a 46-year-old community leader, went to check his crops early in the morning on January 26, 2016, and did not return, said his wife, Elibeth Murcia Castro. A man later told her that days before he had overheard Pérez Ramírez speaking on the phone with a FARC member. The FARC member had asked him questions about where the Colombian armed forces were operating and had requested a meeting on January 26.

Murcia Castro said Pérez Ramírez had previously received threats from the FARC member. She and her family desperately looked for him, and she filed complaints with judicial authorities and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office, but his whereabouts remain unknown. “What I want the most is to find him,” she told us. “And not be like this, with this uncertainty, not knowing if he’s alive or if he’s dead.”

Enrique Pérez (pseudonym), 14, arrived with his mother in Catatumbo in February 2019. They left Trujillo state in Venezuela because, he said, his parents could no longer feed the family adequately. Some days, they only had one meal, and sometimes it was every other day. He had been a student in Venezuela but dropped out to work in the coca fields, under the blazing sun. At times, Venezuelans work only for a plate of food, he said. He said that he works alongside Colombian and Venezuelan children as young as 8, and that he would love to go back to school but must work.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In response to an outcry about the horrific conditions of a US Border Patrol holding station in Clint, Texas, the US Department of Homeland Security announced in June that nearly 250 children would be moved into facilities for children operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

The move came after a group of lawyers and doctors, including lawyers from Human Rights Watch, revealed that hundreds of children in Border Patrol facilities had been left to care for themselves in overcrowded cells. They didn’t have access to showers, clean clothes, or even enough food. Many slept on concrete floors and didn’t have enough blankets to protect them from the frigid air conditioning. Many of them had been separated from parents and other adult caregivers.

Our advocacy, including first-hand reporting from the facility, helped ignite the public outcry that led to the decision to remove children from these unacceptable conditions. 

Nearly 100 children were shortly afterwards returned to the Clint Border Patrol station, though most of these children were also eventually moved to Health and Human Services facilities. 

Soon afterwards, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Clara Long testified before the House Oversight Committee, sharing her first-hand account of what she had witnessed. 

Detention does children lasting harm, and children should not be held in immigration detention. 

Human Rights Watch will continue to shed light on how children and adults are treated in immigration detention and by the immigration system more generally. We will also continue pressing the US government to release all children from detention. Many children in immigration detention have parents or other relatives in the US who are willing to take care of them. In placing children with these relatives wherever appropriate, the US would help protect children’s rights, and children would avoid the harm incurred in detention. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

United States Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Republican-South Carolina, joined at right by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat-California, the ranking member, speaks during a bill markup in his panel as he tries to change asylum laws on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. 

2019 AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

(Washington, DC) – The United States Senate Judiciary Committee on August 1, 2019, forwarded a bill to the full Senate that would all but shut US doors to Central American refugees, Human Rights Watch said today. The Secure and Protect Act (S.1494), introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham, would transform the Trump administration’s draconian administrative measures into law, preventing Central Americans, particularly children and families, from seeking or obtaining asylum.

The bill would essentially extinguish the right of Central Americans to seek asylum, replacing it with an entirely discretionary refugee resettlement program. The resettlement program allows the United States to admit refugees from overseas but does not require it to do so. The change would leave the vast majority of Central American refugees unprotected.

“Senator Graham’s bill would codify the cruel instincts of a president intent on scapegoating and vilifying refugees,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “This bill would make it that much harder to undo the great damage this administration has already done to Central American child refugees and their families.”

The Graham bill would establish “refugee application and processing centers” in Mexico and three locations in Central America. Any national or resident of a Central American country that has such a center or who lives in an adjacent country would be ineligible for asylum in the United States. As a result, no one from Central America who could have applied for refugee admission in those countries would be allowed to seek asylum on arrival in the United States.

Through the first three-quarters of this fiscal year, which ends September 30, the United States has chosen to admit only 306 Central American refugees. The Trump administration has already cut global refugee admissions by 65 percent, from a ceiling of 85,000 in the last year of the Obama presidency to 30,000 this year. Some officials in the administration have reportedly proposed cutting the refugee admissions ceiling to zero in the coming year.

“Senator Graham’s bill pushes Central Americans toward what is already an increasingly inaccessible overseas resettlement program, overriding the right, including for children, to seek asylum at the border,” Frelick said. “Overseas refugee admissions are only a supplement to the right to seek asylum, not a substitute.”

The Secure and Protect Act contains many other rights-undermining provisions, Human Rights Watch said. These include:

  • Eliminating the requirement for a formal agreement with a so-called “safe third country” before sending an asylum seeker there, allowing the US to unilaterally return asylum seekers to countries without guarantees that these countries are willing or able to examine their claims
  • Weakening standards that set limits on detention of asylum-seeking children mandated by the Flores Settlement Agreement and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), paving the way to hold families in detention longer
  • Making asylum seekers show, in initial asylum screening interviews, that it is “more likely than not” they will be persecuted if returned to their countries rather than the “significant possibility” required under current law, increasing the likelihood they will be sent back without a chance to present their case to a judge
  • Barring asylum to people who cross the US border at places other than official ports of entry, even though US border authorities are currently restricting entry of asylum seekers at these ports

“Real solutions that are sustainable and humane would need to involve addressing the root causes of conflict and abuse that displace people and developing safe and orderly pathways to seek protection, including upholding the right to seek asylum,” Frelick said. “The Secure and Protect Act does none of these things, and the full US Senate should reject it.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rescued migrants sit on a coast some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Tripoli, Libya, Thursday, July 25, 2019. The U.N. refugee agency and the International Rescue Committee say up to 150 may have perished at sea off the coast of Libya.

© 2019 AP Photo/Hazem Ahmed

After a year of disputes and ad hoc solutions to resolve stand-offs that have stranded people on rescue ships for weeks off European coasts, there finally appears to be progress towards a European Union-coordinated approach to receiving migrants arriving by sea. But the tragic deaths of at least 150 people in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast today underscores the need for EU governments to do much more.

At a meeting of EU interior and foreign ministers, convened by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris this week, 14 EU countries endorsed “in principle” a France-Germany proposal for a “temporary solidarity mechanism” for swift disembarkation at the closest safe port and relocation of people rescued in the Mediterranean. Eight countries – Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxemburg, and Portugal – said they intended to move forward with a new system. With many details lacking about implementation of such a mechanism, a follow up meeting announced for September in Malta will hopefully provide more clarity.

Building consensus will not be easy. France, Germany, and others say only certain asylum seekers should be relocated, while those not in need of international protection should remain in the country where they are disembarked. Italy – whose interior minister Matteo Salvini pointedly refused to participate in the meeting and dismissed its outcome – and Malta argue everyone should be relocated. Resolving this will require decisions on how to fairly carry out any preliminary assessments upon disembarkation and how to genuinely share responsibility among EU countries for people arriving irregularly.

Participants at the Paris meeting also addressed the dire situation in Libya, reportedly endorsing a call to Libyan authorities to “put an end to their policy of systematic detention” of refugees and migrants. Macron emphasized that appeal in his public remarks. This is vital, as is the stated commitment to increase and accelerate resettlement in EU countries of refugees evacuated out of Libya.

In the same breath, however, EU governments – including France – continue to insist on supporting the Libyan Coast Guard and demanding all ship captains obey its instructions. If EU governments are serious about taking a rights-respecting course, they should swiftly enact policies supporting European rescue at sea, safe disembarkation, and protection upon arrival at EU ports, and ensure that no one should be returned to Libya, given the serious risks to their lives and rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am