Informal camp along the Roya, in Ventimiglia, Italy, where people in transit find refuge before crossing the border. An MSF mobile clinic has been providing them with medical assistance since January 2023.
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People on the move face violence and pushbacks at Italian-French border

On Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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Minors pushed back

Our team has witnessed extremely vulnerable people being pushed back indiscriminately by French police, regardless of their individual circumstances and without appropriate assessment, says Sergio Di Dato, MSF project coordinator in Ventimiglia.

Many of the people encountered by MSF reported procedural violations during the notification of the refusal of entry by French authorities, such as inaccurate transcription of personal data, lack of information or absence of intercultural mediators,etc. Vulnerable people such as minors, pregnant women and new mothers, elderly or severely ill persons are not exempted from this practice. In particular, this contravenes the right of unaccompanied minors to seek asylum on French and European territory.

More than a third among the 48 unaccompanied minors assisted by MSF reported to have been pushed back to Italy, while several individuals told MSF team to have been arbitrarily detained in containers during the night, without any specific protection for women and children. They have also stated that food and water are not provided systematically, medical care is often denied, sanitary facilities are inadequate, and people are forced to sleep on the floor in situations of overcrowding. Moreover, during the reporting period alone, MSF staff in Ventimiglia identified at least four cases of family separation occurring during pushbacks, with some instances causing trauma for the victims, including children.

We were stopped yesterday in Nice by the police,” said Jean*, a man from Ivory Coast to MSF team in Ventimiglia.  “My wife is pregnant. She was taken to the hospital because she fainted while they were handcuffing her. My two-year-old son and I were taken to the border police station in Menton. We spent the night in the cold and this morning we were pushed back and taken to Italy, but we have no news of my wife”.

Joseph*, 33, from Côte d'Ivoire "The Mediterranean Sea is life or death (...) But with my wife and children, I decided to take the risk

Limited protection

Moreover, access to adequate shelter, healthcare, clean water, or sanitary facilities is extremely limited for people transiting in Ventimiglia. Despite the recent opening of two new ‘first assistance centers’ in the city (Punto Assistenza Diffusa – PAD), where extremely vulnerable migrants who have been pushed back from France can find refuge for a few nights, dozens of transiting people are still forced to sleep on the streets or in makeshift shelters. Two out of four promised PAD are still not functioning and fundamental services such as accommodation, healthcare and legal support are provided by local associations and civil society. Skin diseases, gastrointestinal, urinary, and upper-respiratory tract infections are just some of the ailments registered by MSF team, often a direct consequence of the poor living conditions.

Between February and June 2023, MSF - which runs a mobile clinic in Ventimiglia to assist individuals in transit - provided medical treatment or orientation to services to 320 patients. Among them, 215 patients reported acute conditions, including skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as musculoskeletal complaints and injuries, while 14 had chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. MSF also offered health promotion as well as socio-medical group sessions to 684 people.

It is crucial that people in transit, regardless of their legal status, are granted the right to receive comprehensive protection and services that address their needs,” says Sergio Di Dato, MSF project coordinator in Ventimiglia. “The bottleneck created in Ventimiglia is not an isolated case but rather reflects the larger trend of European migration policies that prioritise containment and securitisation over fundamental rights and international protection”.

Hundreds of migrants are trying to reach France from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, most of them living in extremely harsh and unsanitary conditions before attempting to cross the border again.

MSF urges Italy, France, and other European countries to implement all necessary measures to prevent further harm to this vulnerable population, and specifically calls on them to guarantee and increase safe and legal passages for people seeking assistance and protection in Europe.

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