The entrance to the administrative detention centre (CRA) at Rennes | Photo: La Cimade
The entrance to the administrative detention centre (CRA) at Rennes | Photo: La Cimade

Some migrants held in administrative detention centers (CRA) in France have been sent to prison for refusing to take PCR tests. Lawyers have called the practice "illegal" and denounced it as a violation of "fundamental rights".

Since October last year, a number of migrants held in administrative detention centres (CRA) have been sent to prison for refusing to submit to a PCR test -- a polymerase chain reaction test to detect COVID-19.

While some migrants were merely handed an "Interdiction du territoire français" (ITF, a re-entry ban) along with their deportation order, others have received sentences ranging from three to five months in prison with an ITF.

As a result of the pandemic, many countries are demanding a negative test to enter national territory -- including for their citizens who have been slated for deportation.

The practice of sanctioning migrants for the refusal of PCR testing is becoming commonplace, even though it blurs the legal limits, according to rights groups. "We see this process being used more and more," says Mathilde Godoy, Cimade coordinator at the CRA in Mesnil-Amelot, near Paris.

An 'illegal' practice

For the authorities, opposing a PCR test is tantamount to a refusal to be deported from the country and is therefore considered to be a crime punishable by imprisonment.

But for many lawyers, it's not so simple. "Refusing a PCR test is considered by the justice system as a direct obstacle to deportation. It constitutes, according to the law, an 'evasion of the execution of a deportation order'," explains Nicolas De Sa-Pallix, a Paris-based migrants' rights lawyer. "But there is no legal text that makes it an offence to refuse to submit to a PCR test, so [sending someone to prison] is illegal."

Furthermore, you cannot force someone to perform a medical act without their "free and informed consent," explains De Sa-Pallix, adding "(H)ow can a person deprived of liberty, held in an unsanitary place, give his consent in a 'free and informed' manner?"

Also read: Are refugees, migrants and displaced people being forgotten in COVID-19 vaccination programs?

'Endless confinement'

After refusing a PCR test, those migrants who receive prison sentences are once again sent back to the CRA once their sentences end. "Some can therefore spend three months in the CRA, then three months in prison, then another three months in the CRA," says Godoy. "This measure is a misuse of the procedure to allow endless detention."

De Sa-Pallix agrees, describing it as a "strategy of usury". "They [the authorities] make [migrants] understand that their bodies no longer belong to them. They hope to break them by violating their fundamental rights," says De Sa-Pallix.

Also read: Help for migrants in France: A list of organizations


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