Illustrative image of the zapi at Charles-de-Gaulle airport | Photo: InfoMigrants
Illustrative image of the zapi at Charles-de-Gaulle airport | Photo: InfoMigrants

In its annual report on the confinement of foreigners in waiting areas at French entry points such as ports, airports and train stations, the National Association of Border Assistance once again denounced discriminatory practices against foreigners.

On Tuesday, September 29, Anafé [Association nationale d'assistance aux frontières or the French National Association of Border Assistance) published its annual report on the situation in airports, ports and railway waiting zones in which foreigners not admitted to French territory are placed. Often, they are stopped as soon as they get off the train or plane, then detained until their administrative situation is clarified, or sent back to their countries of origin.

This year, once again, Anafé noted that people deprived of liberty at the borders are frequently confronted with a lack of information on their situation and rights. In addition, they face a number of critical hurdles, including an absence of interpreters, lack of access to health care, insufficient food, poor sanitary conditions, even refusals to register asylum applications, as well as pressure and police violence.

InfoMigrants spoke with Laure Palun, director of Anafé.

InfoMigrants: How many foreigners are detained in these waiting zones and what kinds of conditions do they experience during this detention?

Laure Palun: As of October 25, 2019, the Interior Ministry listed 96 waiting areas, including 64 in airports. The number of people detained is still high: more than 16,000 in 2018 and 6,800 in the first half of 2019, according to the latest available government data.

The main difficulties encountered remain the same: refusal to register their asylum applications and expulsions without examination, deprivation of liberty of separated or accompanied children; lack of information provision; lack of an interpreter and lawyer; and lack of access to a telephone, a doctor or health care; insufficient or low-grade food and a lack of proper hygiene; unhealthy premises, lack of access to the outside world; racist or sexist stigmatization and remarks; pressure or intimidation or violence from law enforcement officials.

What’s new this year is the application of a concept called "migration risk." This is a new method that allows the police to assess for themselves whether a person is at risk of immigrating illegally to France. Except that this concept is not defined by any legal text, it’s purely political.

The authorities call this practice "police intuition." It’s totally arbitrary and discriminatory since it's the police who evaluate the "migration risk" according to nationality, gender and also countries of origin and presumed destination. It also varies from one waiting area to another. For example, it is known that at [the Paris area] Roissy [Charles de Gaulle] and Orly airports, women from Central and Latin America are considered a "migration risk" with Spain as the final destination. In Marseilles, it’s more North Africans who represent "a risk" in the eyes of the police, while in Beauvais [100 kilometres north of Paris], it’s foreigners from Bulgaria or Greece who are monitored.

In every case, the interrogations conducted by the police are harsh and the pressure is real. Everything is done to make you say what they want to hear.

IM: For the first time, your report reveals significant differences in treatment between men and women confined to waiting areas…

LP: We have collected many testimonies of unequal, humiliating and discriminatory treatment of women or transgender people. For example, in the Parisian waiting areas, men and women are generally not separated, women do not have access to their luggage to get their pills or sanitary protection. When a woman needs them, she is told that all she has to do is plan ahead. Infantilization, humiliation, guilt: an explosive cocktail reserved for women who do not have a stock of supplies on them.

As for pregnant women, they very often represent a "migration risk" since the police fear that they only come to France to give birth.

Access to health care is very restricted and when you manage to see a doctor, you should know that the medical appointment is made in the presence of the police, and that medical certificates and prescriptions are given to the police. We have several stories of women claiming to have undergone medical examinations they had not consented to, primarily due to the absence of an interpreter.

IM: Are children also subjected to confinement in waiting areas?

LP: Although this is contrary to the Geneva Convention or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, dozens of minors are still locked up in waiting zones every year in France. According to the latest figures we obtained from the Interior Ministry, 232 unaccompanied minors were kept in waiting zones in 2018, including 77 who were expelled.

Like adults, their rights are regularly violated. We recently had a case of a child who arrived in [the eastern French city of] Strasbourg with a false passport. It took him several days to succeed in registering his asylum application with our support. He was finally taken in charge by the ASE [child welfare services] as is required by French law. However, at the same time, the police launched a procedure against him for forgery, although the Geneva Convention forbids targeting a minor. During his hearing at the criminal court, we had to explain to the judge that he was a child. The court then dismissed the case because it was not competent to judge a minor.

On September 24, 2020, a bill on the confinement of minors was tabled in the National Assembly. Following this, the CNDH [National Council for Human Rights] issued its opinion in which it advocated for a limitation on the confinement of minors in detention. We demand an end to the confinement of children in waiting zones, as well as in detention.

IM: What recommendations would you make given the situation in the waiting zones?

LP: For once, Anafé decided not to make recommendations at the end of its report. However, if only one message were to emerge from it, it would be the need to put an end to the administrative detention of foreigners.

(This is a translation of the original interview in French)


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