Border between the town of Ventimiglia in Italy and Menton in France
Border between the town of Ventimiglia in Italy and Menton in France

In a new report by Doctors without Borders (MSF), migrants say they have been pushed back and suffered violence in Ventimiglia on the border between France and Italy. At least 20 people have died in the past two years in the attempt to make the crossing.

Migrants and refugees report they have been subjected to violence and abuse and have been forced to risk their lives to cross the border near Ventimiglia. At least 20 have lost their lives in the attempt to cross borders into France, Austria or Switzerland over the past two years. 

A report by Doctors without Borders (MSF) entitled 'Harmful Borders' details the group's findings after interviews with 287 adult migrants in Ventimiglia between August 28 and September 14, 2017. Some 131 interviewees said that they had tried to cross the border into France: 90 had tried between one and three times, 25 between four and seven times and 8 had tried over 12 times. 

One out of every four have suffered violence 

In Ventimiglia, pushbacks continue despite Schengen Area agreements on unrestricted movement and of "the 131 people who had tried to cross the border, 31 (23.6 percent) said they had been a victim of at least one episode of violence during the pushback. According to interviewees, the pushbacks were allegedly perpetrated by Italian law enforcement agents (14, or 45.2 percent), French officials (9, or 29 percent), unknown police (5, or 16.1 percent), Austrian officials (2, or 6.5 percent) and German police (1, or 3.2 percent),'' MSF reported. 

Migrants in the woods between Ventimiglia and Olivetta San Michele, at a step from the French border, after leaving the bank of the Roja River in Ventimiglia (ANSA/archive)
Due to the closing of borders by France, Austria and Switzerland, the organization said, over 20 people have died in the attempt to cross these borders, 15 of whom on the border with France. MSF added that many of them had lost their lives on the mountains along the 'Death Pass'. The report detailed violence that the migrants had been subjected to both during the journey towards Italy and during attempts to cross the border. 

MSF underscored the deficiencies in the migrant reception and protection system, which makes pre-existing vulnerability of the migrants worse. It added that migrants camping along the Roja river are living in difficult, precarious conditions for days while waiting for chances to cross the border without drinking water, access to toilets or adequate shelter. Vulnerable categories such as minors, women, unaccompanied minors, the disabled and victims of violence and torture do not enjoy any special protection, even within the Roja camp managed by the Red Cross. 

Number of migrants stuck on the border rises 

MSF underscored that, in general, the number of migrants including unaccompanied minors stuck in border areas, who live in informal settlements often exposed to the elements, in parks, along riverbanks and in train stations, with limited access to essential goods and healthcare assistance. ''Strict border control has exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities in these populations,'' underscored MSF's Silvia Mancini in presenting the report in Rome. ''What we are asking European states is to condemn every form of violence and not implement collective pushbacks, as is happening in a massive manner in Ventimiglia, as well as ensure access to treatment.''

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