During the last months we had to adapt our activities to restrictions due to the coronavirus. After announcements by the media, the italian government would close the franco-italian border, we temporarily moved our base camp as well as our kitchen to a place near Ventimiglia, where we are hosted and receive help from local activists. We are located here since the end of September and could keep up our daily activities at the border with an average of 70-80 people per day, as well as the distribution of food in the evening. The strong storm, floods and landslides of the 2nd/3th of october made it impossible to stay here for the span of two days and due to the broken roads in the Vallèe Roya, we were partially stuck in France with our cars and ressources to work at the border.
Nevertheless, on the place we use close to the border, food was provided to the people who were pushed back to Italy by the PAF (french border police). As just a few of us had stayed in Italy during the storm and our cars were stuck in France, we could just ensure to drop food twice a day during the weekend and be partially present there. Mainly we were taken in by arranging the return to the camp in Italy as a full working group, building up our camp again and organizing the necessary resources for the border, like cooking equipment. Until now, there are still two cars stuck in France, hindered from being brought back to Ventimiglia, as the only access is completely destroyed and has to be rebuilt.
On friday night, when the storm began, the streets of Ventimiglia were crowded by people trying to find a safe space. Most of them moved to and inside of the train station, as it was the only dry public space which was open. All trains were cancelled so space was limited for everybody waiting. Usually, the waiting hall is closed at 10pm, and until late that evening nobody knew if it would be any different in the night. It would have been very difficult for everyone to find another space in the streets of the city center, because wide parts were already partially flooded. The doors of the station stayed open, but due to a completely full hall, people had to stay very close to each other and some had to sleep outside under the roof of the train station hall. When we left at 11:30pm, there were at least two families with six children, of which the youngest was one year old, we could not offer any housing. The red cross provided blankets for the two families.
On Saturday and Sunday, we saw the same people including families again. If it wasn’t for local organisations and volunteers, nobody would have taken care of them during this night. In the french-italian region, people went missing or died, streets and houses were flooded, blocked or destroyed.
On monday, the 5th of october, we continued our full presence at the border with food, medical help and advice. We were there again from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The evening distribution is currently organized by other groups. Thanks to them we could focus on building up and reorganizing our structures, as providing everything for the people who were pushed back from france. We have seen an immense rise in the amount of people being pushed back to Italy at the border to Menton(FR). In the week of the 7th to the 13th of october, we constantly had no less than 100 people per day stopping at our place, with an average of 130 per day. Our highest count was 170 on the 7th of october, which is the highest number we had since working at the border. Police controls are reinforced, and most of whom we encountered were trying to cross the border many times, for a span of one to two weeks.
A change in the handling of those without documents can be seen in recurring stories about more police violence then in the last months and harsher treatment towards people in the police station, especially during the night. In the whole week, we’ve heard every day about french police pushing and beating people, either in the trains to France or at the police station.
On the 11th of october, one guy reported about being in the train to Menton the day before, accompanied by a group. According to him and other witnesses, the police blocked the train door when they wanted to leave the train in Menton. As people in the train continued trying to get out, police blocked the door with a metal crowbar and sprayed tear gas in the closed train, where there were at the time as well women with children at the age of two. Being quite unable to see and while crying due to the gas, people pushed more to get out which led to the police beating with the crowbar on their hands, while commenting in french “We don’t need you here, what do you want here, go back to your country”. Everybody was eventually pushed back to Italy.
From several cases in the past, we have learned that people with injuries that are brought to the hospital “La Palmosa” from the french police in Menton are not treated properly and the doctors neglect their duty with legitimation of the police. There are no consequences for this so far.
On the 13th of october, several eyewitnesses reported the same incident. In the morning, several people trying to cross the border took the train from Ventimiglia to France. Police entered, while one person was hiding on the toilet. The police opened the toilet door with a metal crowbar. Two of them hit the hiding person really strong on the back part and the upper part of his head with the crowbar. Another person was hit in the neck from a police man’s hand. Another person was grabbed and thrown out of the train, but luckily didn’t fall down.
The man who was hit on the head was taken to the hospital, where basic cleaning to prepare the stitching took place, but no further cleaning of the wound. After the stitching he was eventually pushed back to Italy, as everybody else. When he arrived at our spot 1,6 km after the border, he still had dry blood all over his head. According to him, the police stated that they can do what the want, because he anyway could not prove anything against them.
Together, we prepared a written testimony and are now organizing a legal complaint with our lawyer.
Besides that people reported frequently about personal belongings taken from them by the police in the police station, including 600 Euros, a passport and luggage with warm clothes.
Families reported about being in the police station during the whole night with a big group of other people. One was a single woman and her 3 month old child, kept with 17 men in a container for twelve hours, without access to water or a toilet. The french police does not consequently follow the separation of single women and families from other detained people.
In any case, there is never any food or water distribution, neither a possibility to use sanitary facilities, just unclean water out of a tab. People sleep on the stone floor or don’t sleep at all.
Reports of being kept for a long time (up to 29 hours) increase again. In the case that people try to communicate to get out , they are being ignored or attacked with tear gas inside the place where everybody stays. This also happened while there were families with children of the age of one year inside. On monday, 12th of october, people estimated to have been there with around 50 to 60 people in one place. No matter which night and how many people, the french police ignore the hygiene measures regarding the Coronavirus. People have no choice or possibility to protect themselves when being kept.
We talk to minors being pushed back without the police respecting their age and their documents on a daily basis, we estimate at least 5 – 10 unaccompanied minors we meet per day.
In some cases we could help minors by getting them in touch with NGOs, who could return them legally to france.
Other local monitoring groups agreed with us, that particularly in this week, there have been a lot of families on their way. For everybody, but especially vulnerable individuals, it is visible that winter is coming and nights get colder. We have had increasing demands for warmer clothes, shoes, blankets and sleeping bags, and have had a small stock of clothes at the border. At the distribution, more donations are given out.
The change of the season intensifies our search for a land where we can stay for good. We are currently looking for a place in Italy in the surroundings of Ventimiglia, where basic needs like running water and electricity are available. We eventually try to find a place to work without interruption and disturbance in our daily structure.
On wednesday, 14th, we took a day off to have a meeting about activity changes and general briefing. Projetto 20K took over our border activities next to Grimaldi during that day. At 8am six italian carabinieri entered our camp and asked for the documents of everyone who was there and walked across the whole camp. We did not get answers on why the control took place and were not able to communicate with them in english. This was an illegal act, another reason for us to get a place where we can be better protected from the arbitrariness of the executives.
Also on wednesday we were informed by Anas (italian road administration) that the area we use close to the border will be fenced to prevent our activities. We did not have direct communication about this happening and were present on wednesday evening, night and early thursday morning. Workers arrived with fences and police company, as we did not leave the place voluntarily, they eventually withdrew. There were rumors about them returning on different days, though until now nothing has happened. As we are low on Volunteers in the moment and don’t know if we can be present every day at the border, we can do nothing but hope they don’t find the right moment or lose their motivation to act like that against everyone suffering from the handling of the police.
The polizia di stato passed by this week to explain more about the situation. According to them the place is legally owned by ANAS and they have the power to proceed with it how they want. The police expressed that they do want us to keep the place, since they “see and know how important it is” what we do. They urged us to pay more attention to cleanliness and safety on the street, to advise people to keep the sidewalk and the street clear, wear masks and respect the amount of available seats on the bus to Ventimiglia. In exchange they would try to “convince ANAS to leave the place how it is”.
Since yesterday noon any gathering in public places is illegal in Liguria again. The food distribution adapts with the corona related precautions we took in the past, so far no problem occured at the border. We are more careful and try to avoid having many people at the places we are active. The police however still gather huge amounts of people in small places without hygienic precautions.
No matter how the situation with our usual place at the border will evolve, we will keep up our presence for the people being pushed back to Italy every day, who until now would always walk pass us, as there is just one main street leading from the border police stations back to the first villages, and Ventimiglia.
One of our main concerns right now is the way we want to work in the future, regarding activities and resources, in order to stabilize our work and structure.
We have bought a van, which makes our work more easy and gives new possibilities to work in and around Ventimiglia.
This drained much of our resources, any help financial or physical is welcome!
Bank account: GLS Bank
Depositor: Frederik Bösing
IBAN: DE32 4306 0967 2072 1059 00