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Refugee children abused and illegally returned at France-Italy border, says Oxfam report

'Children should never be kept in jail cells or subjected to cruel abuse', the charity said

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 14 June 2018 23:52 BST
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French police routinely stopped unaccompanied children and put them on trains back to Italy after altering their paperwork, the report says
French police routinely stopped unaccompanied children and put them on trains back to Italy after altering their paperwork, the report says (Agostino Loffredi/Oxfam)

Child refugees are being abused, detained and illegally sent back to Italy by French border guards, according to a new report from Oxfam.

Some children as young as 12 were being held overnight in cells without food, water or blankets, or access to an official guardian, the report states.

These conditions are contrary to French and European Union (EU) law.

French police routinely stop unaccompanied children and put them on trains back to Italy after altering their paperwork, either to make them appear older or to make it look as though they want to be sent back, the report states.

Border guards have also cut the soles of the children’s shoes or stolen their mobile phone’s SIM cards, Oxfam staff said.

One Eritrean girl, described as “very young”, was forced to walk along a road with no pavement while carrying her 40-day-old baby.

An estimated 16,500 refugees and migrants passed through the Italian border town of Ventimiglia in the nine months to April.

The majority were fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea. Many were trying to reach other countries in the EU, such as the UK, France, Germany and Sweden.

French police routinely stop unaccompanied children and put them on trains back to Italy after altering their paperwork, report alleges (Oxfam)

Around a quarter are thought to be children, who have reported feeling abandoned in reception centres.

They said they were given no opportunity to attend schools or training, while being provided with no information about how to claim asylum or reunite with family members in other European countries.

After months or even years of waiting, many decide to continue their journey alone, while others are pushed out of the centres as soon as they turn 18.

Many sleep under a motorway just outside the town of Ventimiglia, as the only nearby reception facility has a heavy police presence and compulsory fingerprinting which may deter them from staying there.

While sleeping rough, they have no access to clean water or toilets, and their tents or cardboard shacks are often destroyed on the orders of the local authorities.

“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,” Elisa Bacciotti, campaigns director at Oxfam Italy, said.

“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.”

She added: “Europe must fix its asylum system, and share the responsibility for hosting asylum seekers. Governments and border officials should protect the special needs and rights of children instead of illegally pushing them back to other countries. Children should never be kept in jail cells or subjected to cruel abuse.”

French police clear refugee camp in Paris in latest anti-migrant crackdown

The Oxfam report, titled Nowhere but Out, calls on EU member states to ensure responsibility for refugees is shared more equally.

It also calls on the EU to take into account the legitimate needs of asylum seekers and to ensure families are reunited.

It demands the French government immediately stops illegally returning children to Italy and works to put an end to the alleged abuse conducted by French police and border guards.

The Independent has contacted the French and Italian embassies for comment, but neither replied before this article was published.

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