Author: Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Charities accuse border officials of trying to pass minors off as adults to return them to Italy
Seven Italian charities have accused French border police of falsifying the birth dates of migrant children travelling alone in an attempt to pass them off as adults and send them back to Italy.
In an appeal to the European commission and Italy’s interior ministry, the charities highlighted evidence of two cases in which birth dates appeared to have been modified on “refusal of entry” documents.
One of the alleged incidents happened in March when charity staff were monitoring the situation around the Italian border town of Ventimiglia.
Most migrants attempting the journey north into France by train pass through Ventimiglia, only to be sent back by officers patrolling Menton Garavan, the first stop along the southern French coastal route.
“We were only there by chance but saw two minors, who we knew well, being stopped by French police,” said Daniela Ziterosa, a legal assistant at the charity Intersos.
“We saw the police write the incorrect date of birth on the ‘refusal of entry’ document. One of the children took a photo of the document and you can see his date of birth has been changed from the one he declared.
“We managed to block them from being sent back and eventually the French took them in.”
The accusations threaten to worsen already fraught relations between Italy and France over the border, less than two weeks after French agents showed up at an Italian train station and forced a Nigerian migrant suspected of carrying drugs to take a urine test.
The boy who took the photo of the document was born in Eritrea on 1 October 2001, but the date on the form was modified to 1 January 2000. He arrived in Italy in June last year and was attempting to reach Sweden, where his brother lives.
EU law stipulates that unaccompanied minors must be protected and that those seeking asylum in one member state have the right to be transferred to another where they have family members.
In that respect, the charities also take aim at Italy for failing to implement adequate procedures for family reunification, leaving many children stranded and with no choice but to attempt the journey themselves.
The number of people arriving in Italy by boat has fallen significantly in the past nine months, owing to a controversial pact made with Libya. However, Italy still records the highest number of arrivals by boat in Europe; 6,894 people have landed on the country’s southern shores since the beginning of the year, according to figures released this week by the UN’s migration agency.
Many people then venture north in an attempt to cross into France, Austria or Switzerland. But border patrols make this nearly impossible, with towns such as Ventimiglia becoming bottlenecks.
About 200 people are currently sleeping under a bridge in the town, according to Ziterosa. Many also attempt to cross via a treacherous mountain pass.
The situation has become a game of cat-and-mouse between Italy and France. A source at the Italian border police said if there is doubt over a migrant’s age then French authorities can refer to an Italian databank.
“We identify people after they land, so we know if they are minors or adults,” the source said. “So if they are any doubts, the French authorities can check with us. And if the people are minors they have to take them, not send them back.”
The local prefect’s office in France has not responded to a request for comment.
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/12/french-police-accused-of-falsifying-migrant-childrens-birth-dates