The new CRA detention center opened in Lyon on January 17 2022 | Photo: Préfecture Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Twitter
The new CRA detention center opened in Lyon on January 17 2022 | Photo: Préfecture Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Twitter

A new administrative detention center (CRA) opened on January 17 in Lyon, in southeastern France. Over the past four years, French authorities have doubled the capacity of these facilities which are reserved for migrants awaiting deportation. Aid organizations once again condemn the "prisonization of detention centers" and the "criminalization of immigration."

In just four years, France has doubled its capacity in CRAs. The newly opened detention in Lyon center can provide up to 140 new places, bringing the total number of places available in the Lyon region to 280. Three new centers are due to open soon: near Orleans, in Bordeaux and in the Paris region (Mesnil-Amelot). These new centers will bring the number of places in CRA to 2,157, compared to 1,069 in 2017.

Read more: Migrant detention centers in France: What you need to know

'Prison-like feel'

This increase in places of confinement is accompanied by a "toughening at the limits of the law," said Paul Chiron, an official of the Observatory of the confinement of foreigners (OEE), speaking at a conference on the issue held on January 17.

For his part, Olivier Clochard, geographer and member of the Migreurop collective, said that we are witnessing a "prisonization of detention centers." Everything in the functioning of these places "reminds us of prison facilities," he added. The CRAs are surrounded by fences and barbed wire, reminiscent of correctional facilities.

As in prisons where there are isolation wards, the CRAs have their cells of "confinement within confinement", reported Maud Hoestlandt, director of legal affairs of the Contrôleure générale des lieux de privation de liberté, at the OEE conference .

In a report dated 2020, the Controller General Adeline Hazan already criticized that the CRAs were increasingly taking on a "prison-like feel" in "complete disregard of their function."

Read more: COVID-19: 'Lack of internet and language barriers complicate migrants' access to vaccination'

'Violations of fundamental rights'

For these people locked up because of their administrative situation, it is "a time for violations of dignity and fundamental rights," said Hoestlandt, showing photos of cells with a simple mattress on a concrete block and tiled toilets, "like in police custody."

According to the associative members, the extension of the maximum duration of detention (from 45 to 90 days), introduced in the Asylum and Immigration Law of 2018, "has led to trivialize these modes of confinement" and allows "to go towards a form of criminalization of immigration," said Clochard.

Since the beginning of the health crisis, there has been more and more criticism of the CRAs. While France was in lockdown, as of March 2020, the detention system has, in turn, been maintained. If fewer people have been locked up in these centers (nearly 28,000 in 2020, compared to 53,000 in 2019), they have nevertheless been exposed to serious health risks in the absence of adequate sanitary measures, denounced this summer a collective of NGOs, including la Cimade and France terre d'asile.

Read more: 'Situation about to explode' in locked-down Paris migrant camp

'Abusive placements'

The CRAs in France have housed many clusters since the beginning of the pandemic. The one in Mesnil-Amelot, for example, in the Paris region, has seen at least three in a year and a half. Faced with this situation, Cimade decided last December to temporarily withdraw from the center.

At the height of the pandemic, migrants continued to be placed in detention while air transport links were suspended to limit the spread of Covid-19.

These "abusive placements" caused a feeling of injustice "increasingly strong" among the foreigners locked up, "resulting in extreme acts that are multiplying, such as self-mutilation, hunger strikes, fire starts etc.," reported la Cimade in August 2020.

Since 2017, at least seven people held in these centers have died. The most recent death was in late November 2021, when a man locked up in Rouen ended his life.

'Obsession with confinement'

But the CRAs are not the only structures reserved for migrants to be highlighted this week. In an article published on January 17 on the website of Libération, a group of organizations, intellectuals and personalities called for the closure of "waiting zones" at the borders. It is in these places -- such as those at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in northern Paris -- that thousands of migrants are locked up every year while waiting to be deported or admitted to the country.

"If the conditions for entry or residence are not met, they are screened, locked up and sent back," say the signatories of the tribune, which is supported by Anafé (National Association for Border Assistance for Foreigners).

"Through their actions, the French authorities violate fundamental rights on a daily basis in the name of an obsession with confinement," the letter states. The objective, according to the authors of the text, is to "arouse fear and instill in public opinion the idea that foreigners represent a threat."


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