Ousmane, Ibrahim and Moussa were officially recognized as unaccompanied minors in Paris before they were transferred to another area in France due to overcrowding. But things didn’t go as planned for the three boys, aged between 15 and 16, as they found themselves unprotected and back on the streets.
A few weeks ago, Ousmane*, Ibrahim* and Moussa* were sleeping in a hotel accommodation provided by Paris authorities. On arrival in the French capital, 15-year-old Ousmane, as well as Ibrahim and Moussa, both aged 16, were recognized as minors by the Foreign Minors Evaluation Facility (Demie), an evaluation unit run by the Red Cross that is responsible for officially recognizing unaccompanied minors in Paris. The three teenagers were then taken into care by the child social assistance service, ASE (Aide sociale à l’enfance).
A few weeks later, in a bid to address the overcrowding in Parisian facilities, the teens were transferred to other areas of France. Ousmane and Moussa had to leave for Versailles in France’s Yvelines department west of Paris and Ibrahim was assigned to Le Mans, a city in the northwestern Sarthe department, located around 200 kilometers west of Paris.
A minor in Paris, adult in Yvelines
While Moussa and Ibrahim were transferred to their assigned areas, the younger Ousmane was left in Paris on his own because the authorities failed to send someone to pick him up. Ousmane decided to go to Versailles, located 17 kilometers west of Paris, on his own.
Once he arrived there though, Ousmane learned that he should not have come to Versailles on his own. He was declared "on the run" -- a status in his file with far-reaching administrative consequences. In one stroke, Ousmane effectively lost his status as an unaccompanied minor as well as his right to ASE services and protection.
After a few days on the street, the French NGO France Terre d'Asile (FTDA) managed to secure the teenager temporary emergency accommodation in a hotel in Torcy. The legal steps for the teenager to get protection started all over again. Although Paris had recognized him as an unaccompanied minor, the department of Yvelines wanted to reassess his status and asked for a birth certificate. But the two-week emergency housing at the hotel provided by FTDA had ended and Ousmane no longer had any legal representative. The 15-year-old found himself out on the streets again.
Moussa had also arrived in Versailles, where authorities decided to have his status reevaluated. To do this, Moussa was sent to the police prefecture. This has been the norm since a decree introduced in January 2019 allowing departments to send minors to police prefectures so that their identities are recorded and their details entered in the national biometric file of unaccompanied minors. Three departments -- Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis and Meurthe-et-Moselle -- have so far refused to apply this decree.
The Versailles prefecture declared that Moussa had reached the age of majority and that he had obtained an Italian visa as an adult. Moussa, however, says he arrived in Europe via Spain. In any case, the teenager lost his social support. From a recognized "minor" in Paris, Moussa became an "adult" in Yvelines.
At Le Mans, Ibrahim was put under the care of ASE’s Sarthe office. A few days after his arrival, the teen said he was attacked in the hotel where he was hosted. He decided to leave the establishment and return to Paris, where he was hospitalized for psychological trauma. To leave the hospital though, the adolescent had to be accompanied by a legal guardian. But the department of Sarthe, which is legally responsible for him, said they had requested a reassessment of his status. Since Ibrahim could not submit his reassessment application because of his departure after his assault, he too lost his protections as an unaccompanied minor.
Evaluations not to protect youths, ‘quite the opposite’
The cases of Ousmane, Moussa and Ibrahim all led to the same result: The three teens, recognized as minors and in the process of beginning their integration, suddenly lost their protection as minors. They are now homeless, not in school and without legal guardians.
This is not the first time this has occurred. During the transfer of unaccompanied minors from one department to another, some county councils are reluctant to accept transferred young people.
To avoid having to take charge of them, they request reassessments from police prefectures, says Dominique Versini, deputy mayor of Paris who is responsible for the reception of refugees and the protection of children. "It’s happening more and more often that departments want to re-examine the files of these young people," she notes.
It’s during these file reviews that young people can lose their status as minors. "The assessment is much more muscular, especially with bone tests," says Jérôme Damiens-Cerf, a lawyer working on the case of the three teenagers. "When departments do evaluations, it's not always to try to take care of young people, it's quite the opposite."
When contacted by InfoMigrants, the department of Yvelines said they make new assessments in the sole interest of the young people sent to them. Verifying their minority status at an early stage, the department maintained, prevents future complications. "The departmental service can accompany young people, more than 90 percent of whom obtain a residence permit, housing and training," said an Yvelines department statement. The department of Sarthe declined to respond to InfoMigrants.
‘New ways not to welcome minors’
Lawyer Damiens-Cerf however is not persuaded by the explanation provided by the department of Yvelines. "The departments are looking for new ways not to accommodate minors," he maintains.
"It's pretty sad to see how everything is converging so that unaccompanied minors [are suspected of reaching the age of majority], instead of granting them the benefit of the doubt. When a department like Paris has made a very thorough assessment, it’s appalling that the assessment is questioned [by other departments]," says Versini.
In Paris, obtaining the status of an unaccompanied minor is far from automatic with only 30 percent of cases recognized by Demie.
When contacted by InfoMigrants, the French Justice Ministry’s Mission for Unaccompanied Minors (MNA) said they were aware of certain cases of departments refusing to take charge of minors after evaluations. This, despite the fact that these young people are entrusted to the departments by court order. "Aware of these situations, the relevant ministries are ... currently working on the development of a good practice guide for minors and loneliness assessments…in order to promote harmonization throughout the territory and thus, to reduce disputes," said the MNA. The guide is expected to be published before the end of 2019.
Damiens-Cerf contacted the Paris and Versailles prosecutor's offices to ask them to intervene urgently for Moussa and Ousmane. "I also appealed to the two judges for children of Paris and Versailles, and I asked for an audience to review what happened and obtain ASE support,” he said. For his part, Ibrahim no longer wants to return to Le Mans.
While waiting for answers from judges and prosecutors, Ousmane, Moussa and Ibrahim kill time near the Porte d’Aubervilliers exit on Paris’s busy inner ring road, where dozens of tents shelter migrants living rough under the shadow of the City of Lights.
* Names changed to protect identities