Author: Jane Wharton
Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/15/children-as-young-as-12-abused-by-border-guards-as-immigration-row-escalates-across-europe-7631620/?ito=cbshare
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Children are being routinely assaulted by border guards and bearing the brunt of the escalating political spat between Italy and France, it has been claimed. Youngsters aged just 12 are said to be among those being pushed, kicked and slapped by French officials as they try to claim asylum. The allegations come amid a growing war of words between Italy and France over the treatment of migrants.
Yesterday French President Emmanuel Macron slammed Italy for being ‘cynical and irresponsible’ for turning away the Aquarius rescue ship, which was carrying 629 migrants on board. However Italy’s new anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini hit back effectively calling France hypocritical and accusing them of turning away 10,000 migrants, including children, at their shared border. Under the Dublin Regulation an adult migrant must claim asylum in the first country they arrive in. Children, however, can lodge a claim in any country where they may have family.
Over the last nine months there have been 16,500 people pass through the northern Italian border town of Ventimiglia. The majority are fleeing persecution and war in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan. Many of them are trying to reach other countries like France, the UK, Sweden and Germany where they hope to join relatives or friends.
Around a quarter of those passing through are children, according to a new report by Oxfam entitled Nowhere but Out. It claims they are being physically and verbally abused and even having their documents altered by French police to make them look older, it has been claimed. Youngsters are reported to have been detained overnight in cells without food, water or blankets and with no access to an official guardian – all contrary to French and EU law. Kai Tabacek, a spokesman for Oxfam, said: ‘There is the legal requirement that children have special rights. But more than that there is the moral requirements to treat them well.
These are the most vulnerable people both because they are young and they don’t have the support of family around them. ‘Also, because of the experiences they have been through at home and trying to get to Europe through very dangerous places like Libya where they could have been tortured or raped. ‘These are very scarred people.’ Italy and France have been playing a game of cat-and-mouse at their shared border close to the French town of Menton and the wealthy enclave of Monaco. Adults are subject to strict border controls and French police have been known to turn them away putting them on trains back to Italy or sending them back over a dangerous mountain path. However France has a legal duty to accept and help the under 18s if they seek it, but Oxfam says this is not happening.
The charity claims youngsters are put back on trains to Italy after their paperwork has been altered to make them appear older. This means France washes their hands of the ‘problem’ and it once again becomes Italy’s legal responsibility. The report says that during the process, they are pushed around and assaulted. Oxfam staff recount cases where border guards have cut the soles of the shoes of child migrants or stolen their phone SIM cards. In one case, a very young Eritrean girls was forced to walk back across the border along a road with no pavement carrying her 40-day-old baby. Many are now back in a Red Cross-run refugee camp but others are sleeping rough on Ventamiglia’s streets, beaches and underneath a flyover without water or sanitation. Oxfam says the conditions are appalling and the most vulnerable people are at risk of slipping further under the radar. Elisa Bacciotti, Campaigns Director at Oxfam Italy, said: ‘Children, women and men fleeing persecution and war should not suffer further abuse and neglect at the hands of the authorities in France and Italy.
‘In too many cases, a lack of basic services and information in Italy’s reception system is forcing people into precarious and dangerous situations. ‘People with a simple desire to claim asylum in a country where their family members live are being thwarted at every turn.’
Countries with a port close to northern Africa, such as Italy and Greece, already say they are struggling to deal with the disproportionate numbers of migrants arriving there. More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants. A European Union summit will discuss the bloc’s asylum rules at the end of the month.
At the weekend both Malta and the new populist government in Italy refused to allow Aquarius to dock in any of the ports. It was the first major anti-migrant move made by Mr Salvini, the hardline leader of the far-right League party. A week earlier he called for an end to Sicily being Europe’s ‘refugee camp’. Aquarius is now en-route to Valencia, Spain where it is expected to dock tomorrow but has been hampered by bad weather. Mr Tabacek added: ‘Children are being caught in this game of ping pong. ‘This is a political game that they shouldn’t be caught in and they are the ones suffering most in this diplomatic row.’