Detention: French NGOs denounce poor conditions, systematic detention and expulsions without access to trial

by zoejardiniere

23.11.2012 Five French NGOs, ASSFAM, Forum Réfugiés, France Terre d’Asile, La Cimade and Ordre de Malte have cooperated for the second year running on a report on administrative detention centres in France.

Over 50,000 individuals were detained for administrative purposes in France in 2011. This number includes 312 children detained in the French metropolitan territory, and 5,389 children detained on the French island of Mayotte. The report highlights the considerable disparity between conditions and access to rights in mainland France in comparison to its overseas territories, arguing that foreign nationals detained in overseas territories are out of sight and therefore more likely to be denied their rights. Another example of this contrast lies in the fact that 17,000 people were forcibly returned from metropolitan France over the course of 2011, while 31,000 were returned from the overseas territories.

The report is highly critical in many respects, emphasising the problem of foreign nationals being deported before they have had their cases heard in court. This happens in 25% of cases in metropolitan France, whilst in the overseas territories, this circumstance is the norm. The NGOs warn of a worrying transfer of power away from the judiciary and towards the administrative authorities.

This practice has been exacerbated since the passing of a law in July 2011, known as the ‘Besson’ law, which saw the length of time that people could be held without access to a judge increase from two to five days. This law also extended the length of time for- which a person may be detained to a maximum of 45 days. The law was passed ostensibly in order to fulfil France’s duty to transpose into national law the EU Returns Directive. However, the report argues that the Besson law is not faithful to the directive and that French practice does not fall in line with EU standards, in particular as regards pre-deportation detention. The Returns Directive allows for detention under such circumstances only as a last resort, and clearly states that less coercive alternatives are preferable. However, detention in France for this purpose is almost systematic, according to the findings of the report.

Romanians and Tunisians were the two national groups most likely to be detained and deported from France in 2011. However, detention does not always lead to deportation. In fact, over half of those detained are later released, rather than returned, raising questions over the purpose of their detention.

Detentions conditions in 27 centres are assessed, with none of the centres found to be entirely satisfactory. Whilst conditions in detention in overseas territories are described as ‘deplorable’, centres in mainland France are found to be far from adequate in many cases, with issues relating to lack of privacy, lack of leisure facilities and a lack of access to natural light, among others. Self-harm, suicide and hunger strikes have occurred in some detention centres, such as the one in Bordeaux, in reaction to conditions and treatment.

For further information:

–         La Cimade, ASSFAM, France Terre d’Asile, Forum Réfugiés & Ordre de Malte, Report on Administrative Detention Centres 2010

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin France to render asylum law more restrictive 9 December 2011