France: Report on the fate of migrants on arrival and following deportation

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In April 2010, Anafé (Association Nationale d'Assistance aux Frontières pour les Étrangers), a network of 23 associations that provides assistance to foreigners who arrive at French border points, published a report that seeks to document the experience of migrants who have been deported, entitled "On the other side of the border: monitoring of refouled people".

The report tracks their situation from when they arrive in France, starting from their difficulty in obtaining legal representation as there is no permanent presence of lawyers to represent them free of charge in waiting zones and in attempting to avoid dangerous repatriations, with a special emphasis on minors. Anafé highlights that there is a lack of information about the risks faced by refouled people that is not helped by the French authorities' lack of transparency in this field and their failure to enact any measures to find out the fate of the people they send back, but it has set up a network of telephone contacts with refouled people or their relatives to verify what happens to them. The findings of this work concern asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors on whose cases it has worked from 2007 to 2009.

Waiting zones and hurdles faced during the asylum procedure

The first part of the report deals with the situation in so-called waiting areas ("zones d'attente"), particularly in Roissy's Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where Anafé has permanent access to offer legal assistance since the signing of a convention in 2004 that allows a team of its members to intervene, meet freely and confidentially with the people held there and to meet on a monthly basis with the border police (PAF, police aux frontières). There are around 100 such areas in France, found between the points of arrival/departure and the personal control and customs areas, to which access is limited. Foreigners who are not allowed entry may be kept there (and supposedly provided accommodation facilities and informed of their rights to a doctor, legal counsel, interpretation, and to a telephone for private communication with a lawyer, their consulate, etc.) for up to 20 days. In 2009, Roissy's waiting area (ZAPI 3) accounted for 86.5% of people held in these circumstances in the first semester of 2009. Anafé does not have the means or goal to help all the foreigners in this situation, but its presence allows members to act as observers, have regular exchanges with the authorities, assist some people and report instances of non-compliance with human rights standards for the people concerned, as well as issuing recommendations to public authorities.

In this area, the report describes an asylum procedure that is laden with obstacles. Asylum seekers must file their application during the time when they are held in the waiting area and, if it is considered, PAF must take their statement and they will be subsequently heard by the Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA, French office for the protection of refugees and stateless people) to learn about the reasons for their claim and establish whether it is "manifestly unfounded". OFPRA will then submit its view to the immigration ministry, which will decide whether to allow them entry, resulting in their release and their having to submit their formal asylum application in the prefecture, or to deny them entry. In cases deemed to be "manifestly unfounded", PAF notifies the people concerned of the refusal of entry, which should be accompanied by the ministry's reasons for refusal, and repatriation to their country of origin or transit may follow. Anafé stresses that the fact that the measures may be the subject of a "reasoned complaint" before the Paris administrative court does not make it effective, in view of the 48-hour time limit to submit it, the fact that the reasons for it must be illustrated, interpretation problems, and lawyers' assistance only being envisaged before the court. Upon rejection of the complaint, the possibility of an appeal is envisaged, but it does not have the power to suspend the deportation. Moreover, Anafé argues that the notion of an application being "manifestly unfounded" is being misused at present. Instead of being a cursory assessment that allows a large majority of applications to be submitted, its "extensive interpretation" resulted in an admission rate (for asylum claims to be examined) of only 31.1% in 2008, a rate which had reached its lowest levels in 2003 and 2004 (with around 3.8%) before rising again and reaching 44.6% in 2007, with positive views from OFPRA as regards their claims submitted for a majority of people from conflict areas such as Chechnya, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
Anafé is concerned by the fast-track nature of the evaluation of claims and by procedures to return failed asylum seekers, with a rise from 86% to 92% from 2007 to 2008 of claims instructed in four days or less. This "acceleration" means that "theoretical guarantees" for claimants are lessened and that it becomes very difficult to exercise the rights that they are ensured by law (such as contacting a lawyer, association or relatives and meeting them).

The highly detailed questions posed by OFPRA contradict the principle of the cursory examination of an asylum application and may be likened to a "pre-determination of refugee status", whereas it should be more superficial and basically verify whether the claim is effectively a request for asylum. Thus, the nationality of Iraqis, Palestinians or nationals of Arab-speaking countries is often questioned and they are deemed to be Lebanese or Egyptian, and standard expressions such as "unproven statement", "contradictory", "unrealistic" or "childish" are often attached to rejections that make refoulements possible.

Unaccompanied minors undergo a similar procedure, although they are provided an ad hoc official entrusted with representing them in legal proceedings. Situations liable to lead to dangers for them are listed as: the risk of suffering violence during refoulement; risks if they are returned to their country of origin as a result of persecution, exploitation by criminal networks, or if they were fleeing from ill-treatment within their family; risks if they are returned to their country of origin or a transit country, of not being taken charge of upon arrival by their family or legal representative, or by social services that are in a position to look after them effectively. The report provides some figures on the matter, noting that 19 of the 184 unaccompanied minors that Anafé monitored in 2007 were returned after rejection of refugee status; in 2008, 341 unaccompanied minors were returned from Roissy's waiting zone, 25 of them under-13s; in the first half of 2009, out of 357 minors (40 under-13s) recorded as being unaccompanied, 101 were returned (3 of them under-13s). In June 2009, while stressing the vulnerability of isolated minors in waiting zones, the UN's Committee on Children's Rights asked France to "be vigilant, while taking the child's best interest duly into account, that children requiring international protection and are at risk of being victims of trafficking again, are not sent back to countries where they face such a risk".

Difficulties in monitoring the situation of returned people

The report's second section highlights difficulties faced by Anafé in assisting and monitoring the situation of people who are held or returned. Firstly, the people in waiting zones are vulnerable because they have lost their bearings, may have hastily fled places that are very dangerous and are not aware of what they can expect in their destination country and, in spite of them theoretically being provided an interpreter, in practice they have very little information on the conditions of their detention, the procedures they will undergo and the possibility of them being returned. Anafé is often misidentified by the people held in waiting zones as a result of the various actors that intervene there, and are sometimes deemed to be a state body acting alongside PAF. This sometimes makes it difficult to obtain reliable contacts to track the situation in their home country of people after a refoulement, particularly in cases involving persecution. In Roissy airport, its members have a greater possibility to explain their mission to the people held there and to explain the reasons for which it is important to maintain contact after refoulement, although this is not guaranteed to overcome an attitude of mistrust, whereas this is very difficult in Orly, where telephone conversations are the only means of communication with detained people. These problems are heightened by the short delays within which initial complaints (within 48 hours) or appeals must be filed, often making it impossible to explain the importance of the monitoring of refouled people in depth. Cards with the Anafé's details are handed to the asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors who are at risk of being returned. As the average stay in a waiting area is of 48 hours, it is difficult to organise an effective system to monitor the fate of refouled people.

Finally, the only source available to Anafé to find out what has happened to the people in the waiting area is the PAF's Group to analyse and monitor immigration matters (GASAI), which only holds information about the admission or refoulement of people. On a weekly basis, Anafé faxes a list of names of people whose fate it wishes to monitor to GASAI, which replies noting who has been allowed into French territory and who has been deported. The details on the country to which people have been deported are sometimes missing (in 7 cases out of 124 returns of the 524 asylum seekers met by Anafé from both Roissy and Orly in 2009), and requests about the conditions of their refoulement and reception on arrival have been left unanswered, including two cases involving minors, a Palestinian deported to Beirut and a Nigerian deported to Abidjan. It was informed that the refoulement of minors follows an exchange of information with authorities to which they will be returned, but cannot confirm whether they have actually been taken charge of. Since late 2008, PAF in Orly has refused to send Anafé any information concerning its monitoring work, arguing that there is no agreement to do so, and requiring that its members travel to Orly to obtain any sort of information, something it does not have the means to do. The immigration and interior ministries have claimed that an office will be made available to associations in Orly's waiting zone, enabling Anafé to monitor the situation of and provide legal assistance to migrants held there more often.

Violence during refoulement

Anafé's report notes that it has learned of several allegations of violence by the police in its six-year presence in Roissy's waiting zone. It deems them "credible" due to the spontaneity with which they were made, their repetition by different people, the similarity in the practices that are alleged by people who generally do not know each other and stay there for a very short time. Anafé also expresses concerns over conditions in the airport terminal to which it has no access to meet people who are undergoing repatriation as of four hours before it is executed. It collected more than 10 accounts of mistreatment in 2008 and 22 in 2009, sometimes confirmed by other people held there who witnessed the incidents. These instances of physical or verbal violence generally take place in the terminal, upon arrival or prior to returns, mostly in airport police offices or terminals during attempts to force foreigners to board a plane, when no associations or witnesses are present. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that violence by police officers on people stripped of their freedom amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment, and the recurring allegations have led the Commission Nationale de la Déontologie de la Sécurité (CNDS, National Commission for Ethics in Security), an official body that supervises action by security and law enforcement agencies, to examine cases of violence in waiting zones in 2003, 2004 and 2006. A number of accounts of these violent incidents are included in the report, including beatings after a Cuban refused to board a plane on a number of occasions, violently forcing a Zairean to give their fingerprints or striking a Peruvian woman and spitting in her face in front of her children. Instances involving children are mentioned, including a 10 year old Ivory Coast girl who was shouted at and sent back without being allowed to file an asylum application although her mother lives in France, or a 16 year old Palestinian who was beaten and whose return was attempted six times before he was recognised as the refugee that he obviously was.

Human rights violations after returns

Statistics provided in the report show an increase in asylum seekers met by Anafé who were sent back to transit countries (totalling 123, 31% in 2007, 60% in 2008 and 53% in 2009), with a considerable number of them sent to the countries they left (19 in 2007, equivalent to 45%, 32 in 2008, 36.4%, and 49 in 2009, 40%), where they may face the same dangers that led them to flee, sometimes worsened by the fact that they were forcefully repatriated after filing an asylum request. They include a young Ivorian woman who witnessed her parents' murder during the civil war and feared that the murderers may find her, or a homosexual Mauritanian man who may face the death penalty for his sexual preferences and claims that he was savagely beaten upon his return. A Chadian man was arrested upon arrival, forcefully interrogated about his asylum application and when the Chad Ligue des droits de l'homme (LDH) and ACAT intervened to have him freed, he was dehydrated and had not been fed for over two weeks. He has reportedly reattempted the migration journey, and was believed to be in Libya at the time when the report was produced. A Togolese man was arrested for two days upon his return and made to pay 300 euros to be freed. A member of a Guinean opposition party who was returned to Conakry contacted Anafé to explain how he was arrested in the airport, where his escorts told the Guinean authorities that he had filed an asylum application, and he was then taken to a military camp equipped with a prison where he was held in poor conditions and the days began with early-morning beatings. The report also mentions the case of a Cuban who was returned to Havana in which the European Court of Human Rights, seized by Anafé to suspend the deportation, failed to do so due to mistaken information provided by the French authorities, which claimed that he was being sent to Istanbul in Turkey.

As regards asylum seekers deported to transit countries, the report notes that their destinations include places that are renowned for not guaranteeing the rights of migrants and do not have asylum and protection procedures that comply with international law. The examples provided include that of two Ivorian sisters who were sent back to Casablanca after denial of their asylum request, resulting in arrest during which they were stripped of their money by the police and deportation to the desert near the Algerian border in Oujda, after which they were reportedly rescued by some Congolese [information obtained through the Moroccan association GADEM] but ended up held by a people traffickers' network that blackmailed their family in France, which paid 600 euros in order to have them freed. Extracts are quoted from reports by Migreurop and the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) that document practices such as refoulements to the Moroccan-Algerian border, where they are left at the mercy of both countries' security forces, members of which fire their guns into the air to force to head in one direction and then the other in a "gruesome game of ping-pong", or systematically result in civilians, members of police forces or the military stripping them of their belongings, and enrich the business of smugglers who have added hostage-taking to their activities. The importance of monitoring what happens to returned people is highlighted by a case in which Anafé managed to maintain contact with a Congolese deportee through his partner who lives in France: he was arrested in Tangiers for two days during which he was not fed, he was deported with other foreigners to Oujda after a 1,000 km journey, and was then robbed and made to strip naked in the desert by Algerian soldiers, and had to return naked, on foot, to Oujda, where an association offered him shelter. These contacts are sometimes maintained through associations working in the countries to which the asylum seekers are returned after they are alerted. The monitoring work has produced testimonies of practices in transit countries that include imprisonment and the confiscation of documents by the countries' authorities.

Unaccompanied minors are not spared from these situations, as the border police does not require firm guarantees as to their well-being after deportation, and Anafé also expresses concern for those who are Chinese and are sent to Hong Kong, considering the country's vastness. For example, the Association Malienne des Expulsés (AME, Malian Association of Expellees), has taken care of some refouled minors who were left unattended and, in one case, it helped them to rejoin their family. An assurance that someone will come to meet the minor is reportedly sufficient for a return to take place, and there is no system in place to verify that this will effectively be the case. The UN Committee on the Rights of Children was told in June 2009 by French authorities that they "verify that minors are effectively recovered by their family in their country of origin in their country of origin", a claim that was followed by PAF stating that, as of October 2009, returns of unaccompanied minors would take place under escort and exclusively to the country of which they are nationals, after due guarantees are obtained. Nonetheless, the report documents returns of minors to transit countries and, as of 2003, minors have been denied an extra day ("jour franc") that they used to be granted to clearly express their refusal to be repatriated after denial of entry into French territory. Anafé documents the expulsions in 2008 of a Bhutanese minor to Tripoli, in a country that he did not know and had no acquaintances in, and of a Nigerian girl to Abidjan, about whom no information is available. A 15 year old Guinean girl was sent back to her country, which she had fled after her father had banished her from the family home for refusing a forced marriage.

Final demands

Six demands are listed in the Anafé to stop "endangering people who are refouled at the borders" as a consequence of its findings. Firstly, for the rights that they are guaranteed (doctor, legal counsel, free access to a telephone for private communication, the right of access for authorised associations) to be respected in every stage of procedures, including the execution of a refoulement, without the administration being able to claim that a specific phase of procedures exempts it from complying with them. Secondly, for returns to countries where the people are at risk of being subjected to torture, undignified, inhuman or degrading treatment. Thirdly, that agents escorting refouled people be trained about potential risks in cases of returns and about the contents of opinions issued by the CNDS. As regards asylum asylum seekers, Anafé demands that authorities in the country that an applicant will be returned to are not informed about them having filed an asylum claim, and that when a travel authorisation is requested from a foreign country's consular offices in France, it should not be informed of the asylum application or of the reasons for its rejection. The sixth demand, in relation to the returm of unaccompanied minors, is that their refoulement should only take place after a decision adopted by a judge in the child's best interest, after their background is examined and with measures to monitor their situation in their home country.


Anafé, "De l'autre côté de la frontière. Suivi des personnes refoulées"

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