France: MEP denied access to migrant detention centre
On 11 January 2008, Green MEP Hèléne Flautre was denied access to a detention centre for migrants in Lesquin, by the local police chief's office (préfecture), which argued that "there was no reason to authorise the visit". This occurred in advance of a joint press conference by the Collectif contre l'immigration jetable (Collective against disposable immigration) and the Réseau éducation sans frontières (Education without borders network) to oppose the EU Directive on Returns, which would increase the maximum period during which migrants can be detained in France pending expulsion from 32 days to 18 months, and to reject "the imprisonment of undocumented foreigners". The vote in the European Parliament on this Directive has been postponed from January to May 2008.
Flautre complained about the different treatment reserved to national and European MPs, adding that "either the préfet does not know the law that envisages that any MP is allowed to visit a place of detention when he wishes to do so, or Sarkozy's visit has caused him to lose his head and he has abused of his power". The reply from the préfecture claimed that while MPs and senators are allowed to visit these establishments at any time, this does not apply to MEPs, unless they are members of the human rights committee and an investigation is underway. Thus, in spite of Flautre being the head of the EP's sub-committee on human rights there was "no mission underway" and there was consequently "no reason to authorise the visit".
In a letter to the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, Flautre claimed that this constitutes a "serious attack to our rights as MEPs", referring back to a decision from July 2003 that had clarified that the right established in the "Code of penal procedure" for MPs and senators to visit places of detention (in police stations, detention centres, waiting zones and prisons) also applied to MEPs, in response to a request by the President of the EP. Reminding the minister that MEPs will soon be called upon to vote on a "crucial Directive on the return of migrants in an irregular situation containing an important section* about their detention" and that co-decision procedure will be extended to the entire field of justice and home affairs from January 2009, "it is indispensable for us to be able to carry out such visits without any obstacles".
Calling on Dati to comply with the commitment made by the French state, Flautre asks for MEPs' rights to conduct visits to places of detention to be included in texts concerning regulations and for instructions to be issued to relevant services to guarantee the exercise of this right. She adds that, whereas French MEPs enjoy the right to visit places of detention in some other EU Member States, it is "incomprehensible" and "regrettable" that they cannot do so in the country in which they were elected.
Nord Eclair 12.1.2008; letter from Hèléne Flautre to Justice Minister Rachida Dati, 16.1.2008.
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