‘Extremely disappointed’: French court gives green light to bone age tests for child migrants

France's Constitutional Council on Thursday approved the use of bone age tests by authorities trying to certify whether young migrants should qualify for child protection services, a practice that has been assailed by rights groups.

'Extremely disappointed': French court gives green light to bone age tests for child migrants
The Constitutional Council, which decides on the validity of laws, nonetheless recognised that such testing was not completely accurate, and said results could not be the sole factor in determining a minor's age.
“The person being tested gets the benefit of any doubt,” the court ruled.
The case involved a Guinean migrant, identified as Adama S., who arrived in France in 2016 and claimed to be 15, which entitled him to the care of child social services.
Adama refused to submit to the X-ray tests, which are used to help determine an unaccompanied minor's age and require consent under French law.

Photo: AFP

The tests, originally developed to determine a child's skeletal maturity, are widely considered to be less accurate with older children.   

The next year, a juvenile court in Ain, southwest France, ruled that Adama was an adult and removed him from the welfare services.
The number of unaccompanied migrants arriving in France claiming to be minors rose to some 17,000 in 2018 from 6,000 in 2015, according to the Interior Ministry.
In the absence of legal documents, there are few alternatives to the bone tests for accurately assessing a person's age.
But critics say the practice can be used to deny entry to young migrants who should benefit from France's protection under international law.
“We're extremely disappointed,” said Clementine Bret of the Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) aid group, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
“We would have liked to see France honour itself by following the examples of Spanish and English courts,” which have outlawed such testing, Bret said.

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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.