Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Letter

Dear President Macron, being a migrant is not a crime

  • 'At the hands of your border officials and police forces - but very much directed by your blind migration policies - I witnessed first-hand not 'liberté', but merciless constraint' (Photo: European Parliament)

President Emmanuel Macron,

I am writing to convey my intense shock and horror at the wilful, remorseless neglect of universal human rights, the frank disregard for humanity and the wanton abuse of European law at your country's border with Italy.

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During my heart-wrenching trip to Menton and Ventimiglia with Refugee Rights Europe, I saw refugees and displaced people of all ages and from all corners of our planet - compelled to flee poverty, persecution, war, ecological breakdown and compelled to traverse great distances in unimaginably traumatic journeys - dehumanised and demeaned, disregarded and discarded, and dealt with delay and disdain.

At the hands of your border officials and police forces - but very much directed by your blind migration policies - I witnessed first-hand not 'liberté', but merciless constraint. I saw not 'egalité' for all, but inequity between my fellow human beings. I felt not the warm embrace of 'fraternité', but the cold, empty grip of isolation.

President Macron, whether it is the tear-gassing of incredible climate protesters demanding urgent action, the brutal repression of yellow-vest working-class activists struggling for social justice or the cruel dismantling and destruction of the homes of vulnerable, destitute migrants in Calais, you are cementing your place on the wrong side of history, and indeed on the wrong side of humanity.

You believe yourself better than Matteo Salvini the coward yet, you are reinforcing your infamous personal image as that of a man who stands in front of le tricolore and yet leads as a colourless, lifeless, heartless banker whose political calling was based solely on protecting the rich and condemning the rest.

As you enjoy the haughty decadence of Fort de Brégançon and take in its famously scenic views, do not lose sight of the sickening injustices at your country's distant extremities that I desperately bring to your attention, and to amend which I implore your immediate and remedial action.

At your border with Italy, there is irrefutable evidence of the systematic pushbacks of vulnerable people, including of children - yes, innocent, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Not only are your border officials fudging the recorded dates of birth on entry refusal documents, but they're confiscating bona fide birth certificates too.

This isn't just a flagrant contravention of the law of your own country - it is a soulless, heartless monstrosity. You may turn the children away and think nothing of it, but you heartlessly leave them to fend for themselves, and send them on towards further trauma, destitution and increased vulnerability.

President Macron - ensure your child protection authorities' age assessments comply with international law, and stop slamming the door shut on innocent, unaccompanied minors simply begging for a home and a future.

Those displaced people seeking sanctuary at the border are pushed back to Italy without any procedural guarantee and, what is more - when the Italian police does not take them back - they are illegally detained in ill-equipped facilities at the border police station in Menton.

I went there to observe the situation with my own eyes but I was denied access to the containers where refugees and migrants are held. The police calls them "a place of safety", I call them cages. President Macron, let me tell you what they are hiding.

How do you feel about a night on the floor in an overfilled, locked and unsegregated human-container with no blankets and inadequate food and water? Because that is the reality you are imposing on dozens of innocent people on a daily basis.

This arbitrary deprivation of liberty too amounts to a brazen breach of International and EU law. These inhumane practices must end, and detention conditions must be independently monitored and brought in line with international standards - to segregate men and women, adults and children, and to provide access to sufficient food and water, medical care and legal representation.

While there is a clear need for comprehensive reform to ensure responsibility sharing across EU member countries to alleviate the pressure on frontline states, it is no great ask, president Macron, that you uphold basic human decency by treating all refugees and displaced people as human beings.

Keep them informed, guarantee their legal representation and their ability to appeal an entry refusal, and keep them safe from arbitrary detention, while training police on human-rights compliance, safeguarding vulnerable people and identifying victims of trafficking.

I urge you to digest what I and many NGOs and volunteers have found and detailed, to see for yourself, and to swiftly right these horrific wrongs at your borders.

I too urge all European leaders to stop scapegoating and victimising migrants, to curtail 'hostile-environment' policies and to open safe routes for migration once and for all - such that we do not see repeats of the deaths and devastation we have witnessed time and time again, be they of our fellow brothers and sisters who have been abandoned to drown in the Mediterranean sea, or those left to suffocate in traffickers' lorries on land.

At times of tragedy, we are quick to mourn and offer our condolences, and even quicker to throw blame in different directions. But many politicians should be ashamed into not looking past the unjust laws and ignoble rhetoric around migration they continue to endorse and enforce that unrelentingly costs many their lives, and deprives many others of their basic rights.

President Macron, while you viciously 'liberalise' the French economy, do not forsake the central, humane pillars of liberal democracy. Unlike repeatedly breaking International law, being a migrant and seeking asylum is not a crime.

Magid Magid

Author bio

Magid Magid is a Green MEP for Sheffield in the UK, and a member of the European Parliament committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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