Paris: Hundreds of migrant children ‘left homeless due to flawed process’

Hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children are being left to sleep on the streets of Paris due to a flawed age assessment system, a new report reveals.

Paris: Hundreds of migrant children 'left homeless due to flawed process'
Photo: AFP
The study, released on Wednesday, by rights charity Human Rights Watch showed that child protection authorities in the French capital are using flawed procedures to determine the age of vulnerable migrant children leaving many with no choice but to sleep on the streets. 
The practices, which often lead to children being wrongly categorised as adults, mean that they are considered “ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children”, the report, entitled “'Like a Lottery': Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris” said.
The shocking revelations made by the study included the fact that children are often turned away by protection authorities “based on appearance alone” while others found themselves rejected after interviews “lasting as little as five minutes” which is against French regulations. 
“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. 
Photo: AFP
“Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”
In order to produce the report, the charity interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and took into account age assessments in an additional 35 cases.
On top of that, Human Rights Watch spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials in France. 
One of the problems, according to the report, is that young people are often denied interviews if they cannot provide identity papers and even those that have them may be rejected, with the authorities doubting their validity. 
Imrane O., a 15-year-old from Cote d'Ivoire who received an interview said he was turned away on the grounds that his French was “too good”. 
The examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”
The news comes at a time when the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, is increasing.
In 2017, France’s child welfare system took more than 25,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care, representing an increase of 92 percent from the previous year.
In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were sleeping rough in the French capital, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. 

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.