“I said I didn’t want to go back. The policewoman told me : “you’ll be handcuffed... put on a plane and sent back to your country.” Ousmane R., who arrived unaccompanied in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in June 2007, aged 16 years.
Between January 2008 and July 2009 around 1 500 unaccompanied migrant children arrived in Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport and were denied entry to France. When they arrive, these children, who are physically within France’s geographical borders without being "in" France under immigration law, are held by the police in the airport’s transit zone.
Some of these children are victims of people traffickers, others are fleeing persecution in their country of origin or trying to join members of their family. Instead of being offered protection, they sometimes suffer degrading treatment at the hands of the police. If they are over 13 years old, they are held in the transit zone for adults (both men and women) without adequate protection against people trafficking networks or sexual harassment. They often face obstacles which are insuperable for children when they want to make an application for asylum. Not all of them receive assistance from an ad hoc administrator, as provided for by law, and the designated ad hoc administrators do not always have sufficient training to defend their interests. Around 30% of these children are ultimately sent back to their country of origin, or the country where they transited, regardless of whether or not they have family there and where they may be at risk of falling into the hands of people traffickers or being persecuted.
France’s main airport and the second largest in Europe, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle serves 60 million passengers a year, making it a major point of entry to the European Union. France’s legitimate interest in controlling its borders does not justify putting children in danger. Its treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in airport transit zones does not comply with its obligations under international law. The French government allows their status as migrants to prevail over the fact that they are children needing protection.
In its report of 30 October 2009 concerning children in the transit zone in Roissy, Human Rights Watch cites cases of the police forcing children as young as six to sign papers which are incomprehensible to them. According to this report, police frequently handcuff children, subject them to strip searches and even limit their access to toilets during their stay in airports. Human Rights Watch also reported that the police regularly threaten children with deportation at a time when these children are in urgent need of assistance. In several cases, police decided on behalf of children that they wanted to leave ’’as soon as possible’’, without granting them the 24 hours of protection to which they are entitled.
Translation of the letter
The 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has just been celebrated on 20 November. On this occasion and following information I received from ACAT Luxembourg (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), I would like to convey to you my grave concerns about the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children held in the transit zone in Paris Roissy - Charles de Gaulle airport.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in October 2009, the rights of unaccompanied migrant children are often violated. Children who arrived unaccompanied in Roissy and have been refused entry to France have been subject to degrading treatment at the hands of the police, threats blatantly intended to intimidate them and discourage them from seeking asylum, and failure to grant them the 24 hours of protection against deportation to which they are entitled. Children have been sent back to countries where there were no family members to meet them. The Association nationale aux frontières pour les étrangers (ANAFE - National Association for Assisting Foreigners at Borders), which has representatives in the transit zone, regularly confirms and denounces the occurrence of such violations.
The transit zone is also the only place in France where unaccompanied children are to this day deprived of their liberty without being separated from adult men and women, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the absence of adequate monitoring and protection, children have in some cases been victims of sexual harassment or have fallen prey to people trafficking networks. Moreover, it seems that the legal requirement for an ad hoc administrator to provide assistance is not always adequately met.
In order to remedy these serious violations of the rights of the most vulnerable children, I would urge you to take all necessary measures to :
• enable every unaccompanied child to be immediately admitted onto French soil, prioritising the interests of the child, in order to guarantee his or her effective protection ;
• immediately end the practice of keeping unaccompanied children in the transit zone together with adults ;
• provide border police staff and all people in contact with these children with adequate training in asylum matters and the rights of the child ;
• put a stop to the deportation of unaccompanied children to transit countries or to their country of origin, when their safety is not guaranteed.
I thank you for considering my appeal.
Yours sincerely and respectfully,