We have continued to be present at the spot near the border every day from 9am until 8pm. We have not been told again that the place will be closed and we have added signs to encourage keeping the space tidy and following corona guidelines, so as not to give any excuses to close us down.
We are still providing hot and cold food and drinks, drinking water, basic medical care, a small amount of clothes and bedding and a space to relax and recover. We also provide information about other actors that provide other services and try to connect vulnerable people to possible accommodation options. We also use this space to meet people with specific cases who we can help to challenge their illegal pushbacks, and to monitor and take testimonies of this illegal behaviour.
We will start this report with some extremely sad news: a Sudanese man is missing, presumed to be dead, another victim of Europe’s brutal border policies. He was crossing the border through the mountains with two other men on the night of the 17th October. The two other men saw him fall in a way that meant they believed he must have died. The authorities were informed and a search was carried out on the Italian side but no body was found. As far as we know, the French police have not searched on the French side.
We also have received many reports of physical violence at the hands of the police from victims and witnesses (all incidents are referring to the French police, not the Italian), including:
- 18/10, 11am: a man was slapped repeatedly in
the face by police in the police office.
- 24/10, evening: the police controlled a train from Ventimiglia to France. Some of those arrested were beaten and pepper sprayed in the station when they were arrested. Some were beaten and pepper sprayed inside and in front of the containers at the police station. When the police opened the door they pepper sprayed inside.
- 24/10, evening: one man was taken to the police station and was hit when he asked for food. The police took his money and then took him to the containers where they threw him on the floor and said “you are my dog”. He was again beaten when he asked to leave the following morning. A police officer tripped him over and then 5 police officers kicked him. This man appears to be a vulnerable adult, with severe mental health problems.
- 25/10: three men were pepper sprayed and beaten by the police.
- 25/10: one man was handcuffed and punched by the police.
- 25/10, morning: four men were beaten at the police station after being arrested on the highway.
- 25/10, morning: 4 men and 1 minor were walking on the highway when they saw a group of 4 police. They ran and the police officers chased after the minor. They pushed him to the ground and he fell hard on his knees and face. The next day we could see a big bump on his head from when he fell. When he was on the ground, they held guns on him and threatened him and the group of police officers beat him. They dragged him on the floor by his jacket.
- 25/10, 6.30pm: 4 men were walking across the border through the mountains when they were stopped by 8 police officers. The police officers didn’t say anything and immediately started beating the men all over their bodies with their hands and feet. When they tried to protect themselves, they were hit more and told “shut your mouth.”
- 26/10, morning: one man was punched in the face in the police station. One officer advised her colleagues it would be wiser to punch him in the chest instead of the face.
- 29/10: 4 men were caught on the mountain path. They were made to kneel down and were threatened with guns. One of them was beaten.
- 30/10: a family with a disabled child were taken to the police station. The police treated the disabled boy badly and made him fall over.
- 31/10: a minor was kicked in the leg by police and they were aggressive to him when they found him close to the highway in France.
Similarly, we have also received reports of other illegal police behaviour (again these incidents are referring to the French police, not the Italian). These incidents are in addition to the fact that all pushbacks into Italy are illegal as they don’t in any way follow the official legal processes:
- 22/10: we met two minors who declared to the police that they were minors and gave their dates of birth (and are clearly minors in their appearance). It is illegal for minors to be pushed back in the same ways as adults. However, they were pushed back to Italy and the police wrote down false adult D.O.Bs. This is true of all the minors we meet who have been pushed back. However, this was particularly shocking because for one of the boys the police wrote his D.O.B as 1985. This is evidence of how the police believe they are untouchable in their illegal behaviour.
- 23/10: a minor showed the police his International Protection Applicant Card from Greece to prove his age. The police said this was not valid proof (this is a lie and illegal) and pushed him back to Italy.
- 25/10, morning: when the police were taking people off the train, they said to the men “you don’t have papers, so you don’t have rights”, “you see here, it’s like Africa!”, “shut your mouth before something happens, otherwise this could go badly, stay calm and it will be ok.”
- 30/10: a minor who was living in France, is in process to get his French papers and is in the care of an association in Marseille, ended up accidentally in Italy. He was stopped when controlled and pushed back to Italy when trying to cross back to France on the train. When he was controlled, he showed the police his access card for his minor’s shelter in Marseille. The police threw it on the floor. When he was pushed back they wrote his D.O.B as 2000 (his D.O.B is 2004).
- 31/10: a minor was picked up by the police outside the minor’s centre where he was living for the last month near Menton (France) waiting for his age assessment and his papers. He was taken to the police station and then pushed back to Italy..
- 1/11: a man who had the right documents to pass legally to France was controlled, taken to the police station and pushed back to Italy, according to the police because he didn’t have a Covid “attestation” for France. He did, in fact, have one on his phone but they refused to look at it.
In general, we have also received many reports of extremely poor standards in the containers where people are kept at the police station before they are pushed back to Italy. People usually report getting no food or water even if kept overnight, meaning that people are extremely hungry and thirsty when we meet them in the morning. Those who do report getting food have said it was only a small cake or even that they were offered pork (which is forbidden for Muslims, who are the majority of people trying to cross the border). We also spoke to pregnant women who said they were not given anywhere to lie down.
We believe these reports of violence and other illegal and brutal behaviour on the part of the French police are just the tip of the iceberg and don’t reflect the scale of the brutality that goes on. These are just the reports of those people we get into conversation with, who we share a common language with and who want to share their experience with us. In reality, there may be many more incidents.
In this period, we have met around 70-100 people a day, who have mostly just been pushed back by the police into Italy after being caught at the border or in the border area in France and then taken to the police stations at the border. Some have tried to take the train and some have lost hope with the train and have tried to take the more dangerous and exhausting option of walking through the mountains. Most of the people we meet are men, but most days we meet a small number of women travelling alone or families with children. We also meet several unaccompanied minors a day, who the police have not taken on their word that they are minors (this is illegal) or have even ignored their proof of age documents, and have given them false adult D.O.Bs and pushed them back to Italy. We also meet many people who have infected wounds or are in need of other medical care. We have also met several men who seem to be extremely vulnerable, with severe mental health problems or learning difficulties. Thankfully, there is now an apartment available where women and families can be hosted for a short period of time. However, there is a limited capacity and, since the closure of the Red Cross camp earlier this year, this still leaves all single men (the vast majority of people trying to cross the border, and often still vulnerable people) to sleep on the street.
In positive news, in this period, we have succeeded in helping a small number of minors who have documents proving their age cross into France with the help of our lawyer, as well as the man with the correct documents who was stopped because of not having a Covid attestation.
This era of the second Covid wave and lockdowns reappearing across Europe will certainly further affect border crossings and our work. France went back into lockdown on the night of the 29th October, meaning that there will be more police on the streets, controls of most people on the streets and the necessity to have an “attestation” to enter the country and to move in the country. It is too soon for us to say exactly how this is affecting crossing the border but it is logical to presume that this will make it much more difficult for people to cross into France and out of the border area without being apprehended and pushed back to Italy. This could lead to many more people being stuck in the Ventimiglia area.
What’s more, further restrictions in Italy are certain to come in the next days and weeks. Apparently, the government will attempt to avoid a nationwide lockdown (although of course it could still happen) but regional lockdowns, curfews and restrictions are imminent. We will have to see how this will affect the people trying to cross the border, although we can be sure it’s going to make life more difficult. Likewise, we will have to see if we can continue to work throughout the new restrictions as we hope we can!
As a collective, we are a small group at the moment so we are all feeling tired from the work and brutality of the situation, although the small victories we have had recently in helping people claim their legal rights to cross, as well as the incredible people that we meet every day, give us motivation! We are still camping in fairly basic conditions, although we are still hopeful that we can find a more comfortable and sustainable living situation soon. If anyone wants to come work with us in the near future, you would be extremely welcome and extremely useful! Likewise, if anyone can help us with a donation to fund our work here, that would also be much appreciated.
Bank account: GLS Bank
Depositor: Frederik Bösing
IBAN: DE32 4306 0967 2072 1059 00