Illegal detention at the French-Italian border: the State Council washes its hands of the issue


A press release from a group of human rights organisations in response to a decision of the French Conseil d'Etat, which has failed to order the closure of illegal detention facilities at the French-Italian border.

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Originally published here, translation by Statewatch.

In its decision of 23 April 2021, the State Council [Conseil d’Etat] refused to order the closure of "shelter" facilities at the border police (PAF) stations in Menton (Alpes-Maritimes) and Montgenèvre (Hautes-Alpes) where foreigners who are denied entry into France are detained outside of any legal framework and without rights. 

Despite acknowledging that people are detained in facilities "which are not provided for in any text", for around ten hours, the judge for cases referred to the State Council nonetheless validated these practices of denial of freedom that lack any legal basis and have been criticised for more than five years by our associations and bodies working to protect human rights. 

Although it admits a "great discomfort" linked to maintaining these facilities, the judge was satisfied by recent efforts that the French authorities claim to have accomplished in response to our legal complaint, like provision of a "small salad" as a meal (detainees previously had to make do with some madeleines…). Regarding compliance with people’s rights (particularly those to be informed, to be assisted by an interpreter, to apply for asylum, to request a doctor, to speak to a relative, legal counsel or even a lawyer), the judge was content to remind authorities of "the duty to respect rights" and the "great attention" that must be paid to "particular situations", without any further specification and without issuing any binding order. This is wishful thinking that will certainly not produce change, keeping these practices in complete opacity.

However, the situation is not one of "great discomfort", but rather, of a complete lack of respect for dignity: dozens of people held in cramped premises, including men, women, families, pregnant women, young children, unaccompanied minors, people who are ill, asylum seekers, etc., denial of freedom for more than ten hours without any right, including those to seek asylum or have access to a doctor, the impossibility of guaranteeing medical care for these people, the trauma inflicted on a child taken to hospital in a state of post-traumatic shock following this detention, etc.

Once again, this decision confirms the State Council’s indifference when it is called upon to condemn violations of migrants’ rights. However, our associations will continue their fight to put an end to this scandal and to guarantee a State in which everyone’s rights are effectively respected. 

Additional information

Since June 2015, our associations have observed and criticised illegal migrant detention practices by the French administration at the French-Italian border. Every day, following discriminatory checks and expedited procedures to deny entry, dozens of people are held in modular buildings adjacent to the PAF border posts in Menton and Montgenèvre, for several hours if not overnight or even longer, and this happens in undignified conditions: uninsulated buildings of a few square metres, lack of blankets, no possibility to lie down, a lack of or very scant food and water, deplorable hygienic conditions, and great promiscuity among all the people held (families, adults, children, men and women). 

In 2017, the State Council had refused to validate these practices, deeming that they could be justified insofar as the duration of the denial of freedom was no longer than a length of time described as "reasonable", of under four hours.

Nonetheless, our associations continue observing the same thing: a daily denial of freedom affecting dozens of people for periods that were regularly longer than four hours, in undignified conditions. 

Outside of any legal framework, this denial of freedom escapes any jurisdictional control and is always carried out in complete opacity. Since late 2019, several elected representatives have been refused access to these facilities (whereas they were allowed access until then) because they are supposedly not places where people’s liberty is denied, but rather, conversely, they are "shelters" to guarantee migrants’ "security". 

In September and October 2020, representatives of Anafé and Médecins du Monde turned up at the PAF facilities in Menton and Montgenèvre in order to provide legal and medical assistance to the people who were "sheltered" there. Now, for the very reason that these people were "sheltered", they were refused access. 

Anafé, Médecins du Monde, ADDE, Fasti, Gisti, La Cimade, Le Paria, LDH, SAF, SM, Alliance-DEDF, Roya Citoyenne and Tous Migrants then decided to initiate a campaign involving litigation against this denial of freedom at the French-Italian border. 

Asked about these refusals of access, decisions by judges from the Nice and Marseille administrative courts on 30 November 2020 and 10 December 2020 suspended these refusals of access and directed the competent préfectures to re-examine the associations’ requests for access. 

Hence, without receiving any response from the préfectures, representatives of Anafé and Médecins du Monde showed up at the PAF stations in Menton and Montgenèvre in January 2021. They were refused access, once again. 

Therefore, our associations decided to call upon the Nice and Marseille administrative courts again, by means of references to liberty, to put an end to these unlawful practices of denial of freedom by ordering that the facilities in question be closed. As a subsidiary measure, our associations demanded that the judges issue a stricter decision regarding the issue of access to these facilities. 

In decisions issued on 4 and 16 March 2021, the Nice and Marseille administrative courts required the préfectures of Alpes-Maritimes and Hautes-Alpes to contact our associations in order to establish the modalities for access to the PAF facilities in Menton and Montgenèvre without, however, saying anything about the closure of facilities for the denial of freedom. 

Following these decisions, the préfectures of Alpes-Maritimes and Hautes-Alpes respectively contacted our associations by post on 12 March and 9 April, in order to initiate negotiations to define the right of access for Anafé and Médecins du Monde, for which, to date, the associations’ modes of access are still very limited (once a week, for a few hours in the morning, at times chosen by the authorities). 

Because of this, our associations decided to appeal the decisions by the Nice and Marseille administrative courts about their main demand, the closure of the facilities to deny people their freedom in Menton and Montgenèvre, before the State Council. Furthermore, our associations offered a third path for the judge of cases referred to the State Council, if the facilities were not to be closed, by proposing that it monitor compliance with people’s fundamental rights. 

The hearing at the State Council was held on 12 April 2021. 

Did you say "sheltered"? 

The reality experienced by people who passed through these facilities and spoke to our associations about what they endured seems very distant from what one would imagine the idea of "shelter" means. 

On 14 Avril 2021, Amadou*, a Guinean national, spoke of having been denied his freedom in the modular buildings adjacent to the PAF station in Menton from 19:30 on 11 April to 12:00 of 12 April 2021. When he was questioned, he told law enforcement agents that he was under-age. However, this was not taken into account when he was denied his freedom alongside 20 other people, all of them adult men. He stated that he received a bottle of water and a tin of sardines as a meal. He claimed he was cold at night and did not receive a blanket. The police officers provided some pieces of cardboard to cover the floor, according to his account. Finally, he said that he slept on the floor like the other persons detained with him, on a floor that was dirty.

On 13 April 2021, two families of Afghan nationals spoke of how they were denied their freedom for the entire night between 12 and 13 April in the modular building adjacent to the PAF station in Montgenèvre. For more than 12 hours, the members of these families were held in this facility in which around 20 people were denied their freedom at the same time, giving rise to a situation of great promiscuity. 

On 8 October 2020, Maya*, an Ivorian national, spoke of her denial of freedom for over 14 hours with her two daughters aged three and five at the PAF facility in Menton. She was denied her freedom with more than 17 other persons, men and women together in a small space without any respect for any possible sanitary protection rules and, in addition, she didn’t even receive any food and spoke of the deplorable conditions of toilets. 

In 2019, Alpha*, a 17-year-old Nigerian national, spoke of having been detained on the night between 27 and 28 May 2019 in the modular buildings adjacent to the PAF station in Menton, for more than ten hours. Around ten adults were detained there at the same time as him, in deplorable conditions and with toilets that were out of use. However, he had declared that he was a minor and that he wished to apply for asylum in France, but this was not taken into account by the law enforcement agencies.

In 2018, Omar*, an Ivorian national, 20 years old, spoke of his denial of freedom in the PAF facilities in Montgenèvre from 18:00 to 7:00 in the morning, on the night between 3 and 4 September, without any food nor water.

These are only a few examples among hundreds… 

To follow the litigation campaign: #DetentionArbitraire

*The names have been altered to safeguard the confidentiality and anonymity of the people concerned. 

Signatory associations:

Anafé – Association nationale d’assistance aux frontières pour les étrangers

Médecins du Monde 

Organisations that are members of the Observatoire de l’enfermement des étrangers (Observatory on the detention of foreigners): ACAT-France, Avocats pour la défense des droits des étrangers (ADDE), Anafé, Comede, Droits d’urgence, Fasti, Genepi, Gisti, La Cimade, Le Paria, Ligue des droits de l'homme, MRAP, Observatoire Citoyen du CRA de Palaiseau, Observatoire du CRA de Oissel, Syndicat des avocats de France (SAF), Syndicat de la magistrature (SM)

Alliance-DEDF (Alliance des avocats et praticiens du droit des étrangers pour la défense des droits fondamentaux)

Roya citoyenne

Tous Migrants

Co-signatory associations:

AdN (Association pour la démocratie à Nice)


CCFD-Terre Solidaire

Emmaüs Roya

Kesha Niya Kitchen 

We world

You can find the statement online, here

Image: bobbsled, CC BY-SA 2.0

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