A migrant was found dead on the roof of a train coming from Italy on Monday at the French station of Menton, just across the border. Authorities suspect the man was electrocuted.
On Monday afternoon (January 9) French emergency services were called to the station of Menton near the Franco-Italian border to put out a fire which had started on the roof of a train.
Once up on the roof, they discovered the body of a man who was described as being "almost certainly a migrant," reported the French broadcaster France 3.
The man is thought to be around 30 and was dead when the authorities reached him. He was discovered on a regional train which runs from the Italian town of Ventimiglia to the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of France.
Menton-Garavan is the first French stop on the train route. The train authorities say they only knew about the presence of the man after a fire broke out near the transformer which delivers electricity to the train via overhead wires.
An 'African migrant'?
Transport on the route was suspended while the emergency services attended the scene. The French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) added that the man could be an "African" migrant, because it is not the first time that migrants have sought to reach France by stowing away on the trains traveling from Italy to France.
An increase in controls on the Franco-Italian border in recent months has meant that some migrants are tempted to try more and more dangerous means of avoiding the authorities in order to reach their destination.
Many of the Francophone African migrants who arrive in Italy via the Mediterranean seek to arrive in France as they often have connections and family and sometimes better job prospects over the border because of their knowledge of French. Other migrants also seek to leave Italy for France in the hope of reaching other parts of Europe, or journeying north to the Channel coasts around Calais before attempting the crossing to the UK.
The French police have opened an enquiry into the incident, reported AFP. The authorities said they would be taking fingerprints and carrying out an autopsy in the hope of being able to identify the man.
"This is the first death of the year in such circumstances," said Christian Papini, the head of the Catholic charity Caritas in Ventimiglia, sadly. "This demonstrates the despair that many of these people feel," continued Papini. "They are trying to cross the border using ever more dangerous means."
Papini told France 3 that his organization was looking after about 70 migrants at the moment in the Italian town of Ventimiglia. He said the numbers changed day by day and his organization expected the numbers to rise quickly in the next few weeks.
Since 2015, according to Caritas, 33 people have died trying to stow away on trains crossing the border. Papini said that many of the migrants arriving at the Franco-Italian border have already taken so many risks in order to get there that jumping on a train roof doesn’t seem much more dangerous to them than any of the other things they have had to undergo.
More dangerous routes
Papini believes that some migrants decide to stow away on the trains on their own initiatives, whereas others pay smugglers who show them techniques they think will get them to their destination. Most of the smugglers tend to put migrants on to lorries along the A8 motorway, explained Mireille Damiano, a lawyer in Nice who works with migrants, to France 3.
Damiano puts the number of migrants who have died crossing into France from Italy since 2015 at around 50, although these figures are unofficial. Damiano blames the French state’s more intensive controls which began in 2015 for the rise in the numbers of deaths.
"Since 2015, the state justified its systematic controls blaming fears of terrorism. I think these controls are abusive," the lawyer told France 3. "In addition, the system is disfunctional, in particular when it comes to minors who are often pushed back without the proper and legal evaluation of their right to demand asylum. This has all been referred to the Council of Europe."
Authorities in the region Alpes-Maritimes, the region which includes Menton, told France 3 that they had stopped around 18,000 people from using the trains to cross from Italy to France in 2022. During last year, they said they had found two people seriously injured following electocution on the line, but no one had died.
Another organization that works with migrants in the area, Roya-citoyenne, told the local newspaper Nice Matin that the "closure of the borders is responsible for another death in Menton." They called the border “murderous.”
According to InfoMigrants French, in September 2021, a young man from Bangladesh died electrocuted near Ventimiglia station. Later that year, in November, a 31-year-old from Ivory Coast was found seriously injured and burnt after being electrocuted on the roof of a train in Menton. The man said he had hoped to escape police controls.
In February 2022, the body of another young man was found on the roof of a train traveling from Ventimiglia into France. The Italian press reported at the time that the man hid near the overhead cables contacter and most likely was burnt alive when his body touched one of the cables which can deliver 25,000 volts. He would have died instantly, reported local newspaper San Remo News.