Migrants coming to Europe must stay on the State’s territory where they arrived first as long as their refugee status has not been formally recognised. This rule is coming from the Dublin agreements that were adopted before the massive migrations of 2014 and 2015. Therefore, first comers cannot enjoy free movement outside of the country where they asked for asylum. On Thursday 10 and Friday 11 May, we met the actors working on the ground in order to listen to them, at the border between Italy and France.
We decided to go to the two famous places where border controls on migrants have been reinstituted in 2015: Bardonecchia and Ventimiglia.
At the core of the Alps, Bardonecchia is a touristic city which was widely talked about due to an event on 31 March: French customs officers constrained a Nigerian migrant, previously identified as irregular, to leave a train coming from France and brought him in a room (“la stanzetta”) for migrants located in the premises of the Bardonecchia’s train station.
Italian authorities complained against this intrusion from France on their territory. We visited this premise on Thursday evening at 11.30, when the last train coming from Italy ends its trip. Two volunteer doctors from the “Rainbow4Africa” organisation were responsible for a duty with a Cameroonian intermediary employed by the municipality. The four migrants who were present were trying to cross the border. Three of them had already submitted their asylum status’ recognition demand when they arrived in Italy. The request for admission in France was transmitted on the same day to French authorities and was rejected. They will have to go back to Turin by train the day after. The fourth one, coming from Cameroon, managed to enter Italy without being registered. Then he will try to cross the mountain cleared of snow in Spring and will be registered in France, in Modane or Briançon.
On Friday morning, in the municipal council’s room of the city hall, the Bardonecchia’s mayor Francesco Avato invited his colleagues from neighbouring municipalities, Italian and French, and notably Oulx’s mayor Paolo De Marchis, Claviere’s mayor Franco Capra, Briançon’s mayor Gerard Fromm, Nevache’s mayor Jean-Louis Chevalier, Fourneaux’s mayor François Chemin, Condove’s deputy mayor Jacopo Suppo. The vice-president of Piedmont’s region Monica Cerruti also participated to this meeting as well as the representatives from NGOs and associations, notably the Red Cross, Rainbow4Africa, Recosol, Pulmino Verde, Asgi and local police through the Bardonecchia’s deputy prefect Michele Capobianco.
The welcoming of two Members of the European Parliament is even warmer as local actors and elected people feel forgotten by European institutions. In their speeches, all mayors criticise the comeback of a border, which, as “united mountain dwellers”, ceased to exist for them.
They are determined to ensure the security of people on the territory they are taking care of. With the snowmelt, new victims will probably be exhumed. All of them regret the lack of means in order to assume with humanity and dignity the reception of migrants. The latter, directly after having crossed the border, are moving towards other destinations. Only a few of them have decided to stay in France. Briançon’s mayor reckons to 3000 the number of migrants who went through his city since January and foresees a noticeable increase of the flow with the arrival of summer and sunny days.
NGOs are asking for additional means and are criticising the lack of respect of fundamental rights, notably the fate of foreign lonely minors that France is systematically sending back to Italy. People smugglers are acting; they facilitate the crossing of the border. Criminal organisations enable 200 to 300 passing per day.
Responsible people underline the damage that local cities are suffering. Their economic life is based on winter and summer tourism. The presence of migrants, even the ones just passing, and the image in the media is badly perceived by inhabitants and local actors. The context can even lead to party demonstrations commented by the press, such as the operation undertaken by “Identity Generation” at the end of April.
We were welcomed by the mayor Enrico Ioculano, elected in 2014, at the new Red Cross camp, with the presence of elected people from Menton, notably Jean-Claude Chaussende and Patrice Novelli, and Roquebrune, Émile Serrano and Marie-Christine Franc from Ferriere and NGOs’ representatives, of Caritas and Pulmino Verde. The Italian police remains at the camp’s entrance. The first one, established in 2015, near the train station was rapidly submerged and considered as unbearable by travellers and neighbouring inhabitants.
Dismantled and displaced in 2016, it is now implemented on a site away from houses, at the intersection of trunk roads, with accommodations looking like worksite huts containing five beds. Almost 600 residents can be welcomed. Today they are around 300. Caring and sanitary equipment, place reserved to women and children, dishes prepared there are served in a large tent which contains tables and benches that are at the disposal of residents.
The material is financed by the Red Cross of Monaco. The admission to the camp goes hand in hand with the collection of fingerprints and an automatic identification. Then the migrants who have been registered in the south of Italy are recognised. The average duration of the stay is five days. Around twenty ethnic groups are present. When they leave, they are encouraged to take the train towards other Italian destinations, notably lonely minors.
Actually, it has been confirmed that most of migrants will try to go in France, through the sea or by following the Roya’s valley during tens of kilometres. They will manage to cross the border, helped by remunerated smugglers, and go to the destination they have chosen, far away from the Côte d’Azur. Some of them will end in the region of Calais, others will go in Germany or other countries in the north of Europe. In those conditions, on the other side of the border, in the cities near Ventimiglia, the presence of migrants has ceased to be visible. From a more tragic point of view, it is reminded that several young migrants have been the victims of fatal accidents on roads or railways towards France.
Our attention is focused on the financing of “passing”. Questioning a Pakistani resident about his itinerary, he described a journey passing through Iran towards Turkey. Then from Turkey to Greece, for 1000 euros. Then he travelled from Greece to Italy for 3000 euros. It is clear that he is moving without money. So there is an additional financing network activated externally. The name of Western Union was mentioned. An inquiry should clarify those practices and enable to understand the scope of this singular “economy”.
The mayor conducts us to a former clandestine camp, recently dismantled, which was located in the neighbourhood of Gianchette around a meeting hall installed in May 2016 in the basement of the Sant’Antonio church. This place favoured the gathering of many migrants nearby (until 1000 people), where no equipment was present and which was dangerous due to the intense automotive circulation and the Roya river, in a clandestine camp that had the advantage of avoiding identification, which implies the obligation to stay in Italy.
Following the protests of an exasperated neighbourhood, the reception centre destined to women and children was closed in August 2017 after having been operable during 440 days for the most vulnerable migrants. The mayor and the priest of Sant’Antonio Don Rito told us they received death threats. During our stay, we did not see any migrant, neither in the church’s basement nor in the clandestine camp’s short-lived grounds. The premise financed by the municipality and NGOs, under the church, should be put at the disposal of neighbourhood’s inhabitants from now on for social and cultural activities, for the benefit of young and elderly people.
The reinstatement of controls on migrants at the internal borders of the European Union are laid down by the Dublin Convention concluded in 1990, long before the massive migrations of 2015, and reformed in 2003 and 2013. Its provisions fix a legality which is not respected anymore as migrants actually cross the borders, as we noted in Bardonecchia and Ventimiglia. Moreover, it stimulates and makes the “passing” economy rich and feeds a clandestine system, which is partly criminal.
The migratory challenge is in front of us. The Europe of free movement cannot rely any longer on the sovereignty of Member States that have external borders. If there is a domain where European sovereignty has to demonstrate its added value, it is clearly the one of massive migrations which will come up the next decades. In order to reinforce the control of flows and run out the sources, the following priority actions are an absolute urgency:
Jean Arthuis & Daniele Viotti | Translated from French