Ratification of agreement to increase repatriations of unaccompanied minors underway
On 26 August 2008, the French foreign and European affairs minister Bernard Kouchner submitted a draft law to authorise the ratification of a bilateral agreement signed on 1 February 2007 for the protection, return and re-integration of unaccompanied Romanian minors in France to the Senate. It is set to replace the agreement signed on 4 October 2002 that came into force on 26 February 2003 and lasted three years, on "co-operation with a view to the protection of Romanian minors in difficulty in the territory of the French Republic and on their return to their country of origin, and for the fight against exploitation networks". It resulted in the setting up of a groupe de liaison opérationelle (GLO, operational liaison group) involving members of the judicial, police and child protection services, to establish operational co-operation mechanisms in this field. Apart from the issue of unaccompanied Romanian minors and problems they faced in France, this agreement also strengthened bilateral co-operation in the fight against "organised crime, trafficking in human beings" and in "ensuring internal security in the two countries", detailed in a ministerial protocol signed in August 2002. The explanatory memorandum of the draft law notes that both parties are satisfied with its past implementation, which has resulted in Romanian authorities carrying out social inquiries into over 300 cases and identifying over 500 minors for their French counterparts, with 59 minors returned to Romania (six of them in 2006). The purpose of the new agreement is detailed as "to promote the organisation and increase the number of repatriations to Romania" of minors who are experiencing difficulties in France, and "to develop judicial co-operation" and "joint action to combat organised crime, itinerant crime, and to dismantle networks for the exploitation" of these minors. The provisions of the agreement are described as improving "identification and protection" of these minors in difficulty or who have been the authors or victims of criminal offences, and to better ensure their protection and re-integration in Romania through the exchange of information concerning their civil status and the monitoring of their re-integration during a six-month period after their return.
The scope of application of the agreement is three-fold: to resolve the situation of Romanian minors in difficult situations in France, at risk of abuse, exploitation and crime; to enable the exchange of data and information needed to resolve these situations as effectively as possible, including for repeat offenders; and to strengthen the fight against "organised crime, itinerant delinquency and dismantling networks exploiting" minors (article 1). The bilateral co-operation's scope is to "identify and protect" unaccompanied minors who have suffered or been involved in carrying out criminal offences; promote their return by exchanging information on their status, the whereabouts of their legal representatives and any information on their conditions in their country and ensure that there are good conditions for their return (including the adoption of protective measures and monitoring their social re-integration for six months); prevent the risk of exploitation or of reprisals against the minors returned to their families resulting from the exchange of information on criminal networks or organisations exploiting them in Romania and France (art. 2). A procedure for taking charge of these minors will be set up by French authorities to contact them, establish a bond of trust, receive and give them accommodation, health care, and to draw up a plan for their return to Romania, organising the journey and accompanying them back (art. 3.1). The GLO, presided over by the justice minister, will enable operational relations between the two parties' authorities, particularly as regards information exchange. Its tasks will be to: enable the minors' identification; improve the taking charge of the minors and enable their return when conditions to do so are met; contribute to bilateral co-operation against Romanian criminal organisations targeting the minors whose activity stretches out into French territory. The GLO will produce an annual report on its activities and be subject to yearly evaluation (art.3.2).
After certifying their civil status, a minors' court will conduct inquiries to obtain relevant material on their personal and administrative situation, in accordance with child protection legislation. The competent Romanian authorities will be informed without delay, and entrusted with detailing how they will be taken charge of in Romania after examining their personal and administrative situation, and may request their return in writing. If the French minors' court does not request the intervention of a children's judge (juge des enfants), it may execute the Romanian request, once it deems that the information received from Romania satisfies the required guarantees for the minor's well-being. If a children's judge has been seized with the case, the elements received from Romania may be used to withdraw the child from judicial authority to enable their return. If minors can no longer be found when the request is received, the court will request their inclusion in the Schengen Information System (SIS), and the return will be carried out if they are subsequently found and the information received from Romania complies with requirements and is no more than a year old. After the return, Romanian authorities are to immediately adopt the protection measures deemed necessary under national legislation, informing France of the returned minors' situation on an annual basis (art. 4). France will fund all the activities undertaken on French territory, and the cost of returning the minors to Romania (art.5). Any disputes concerning the agreement's implementation will be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties' authorities (art. 6).
Hors la Rue, an organisation working to support unaccompanied foreign minors or foreign minors who are in danger, has produced an open letter signed by numerous associations calling for the withdrawal of the draft law for the ratification of the French-Romanian agreement. It also notes that the new agreement does not correct the serious problems in the implementation of the 2002 agreement, but rather, lowers the fundamental guarantees within which the return of unaccompanied minors had to be conducted, by eliminating the requirement of evaluation prior to a minor being returned and the automatic seizing of children's judge, allowing a court to organise the minor's return without any procedures for discussing the merits of the case. Moreover, in spite of the stricter requirements envisaged in the 2002 agreement, the organisation deems that at least half of the returns ostensibly conducted under its terms did not comply with minimal conditions for the protection of minors. In 50% of cases, the minors were not heard by a children's judge before they were returned, in over 50% of cases, the returns did not involve prior social enquiries in Romania, and the situation of two thirds of the repatriated minors were not subjected to monitoring after their return. After its call for a serious evaluation of the operation of the 2002 agreement by the French authorities was not met, Hors la Rue carried out its own evaluation, which will be published shortly, with a view to its conclusions being taken into account before introducing a new procedure. Romania is deemed to have made progress in the field of the protection of minors, but this does not necessarily mean that it will be able to receive these repatriated minors in satisfactory conditions. Highlighting that if Romanian minors are returned to their country in the same conditions as they were in when they left, they are likely to emigrate again, toward France or another country, Hors la Rue argues that a badly prepared return is both counter-productive and dangerous.
On occasion of her visit to a Red Cross reception centre for unaccompanied foreign minors in Taverny (Val d'Oise), Green party senator Alima Boumediene-Thiery expressed her concern that the agreement falls within the current government's logic, namely a "drastic and scandalous" limiting of the rights of Romanians and Bulgarians in France. She highlights that their right to come and go, and access to different professions, is strictly regulated and that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child is contravened by eliminating the prior evaluation of returns, diminishing the role of children's judges and the fact that a discussion about the merits of returns in a minors' court is not envisaged.
Accord entre le Gouvernement de la République française et le Gouvernement de la Roumanie relatif à une coopération en vue de la protection des mineurs roumains isolés sur le territoire de la République française et à leur retour dans leur pays d'origine ainsi qu'à la lutte contre les réseaux d'exploitation concernant les mineurs, Bucharest, 1 February 2007
PROJET DE LOI autorisant l'approbation de l'accord entre le Gouvernement de la République française et le Gouvernement de la Roumanie relatif à une coopération en vue de la protection des mineurs roumains isolés sur le territoire de la République française et à leur retour dans leur pays d'origine ainsi qu'à la lutte contre les réseaux d'exploitation concernant les mineurs, http://www.senat.fr/leg/pjl07-500.html
Statement by Hors de la Rue
Dossier on the French-Romanian agreement by Hors de la Rue, analysis, legislative texts, bilateral agreements and critical analysis
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