French detention centre highlights mistreatment of migrants in Europe

Men, women, children and infants are piled on mats in overcrowded cells. Food is strewn all over the kitchen and the toilets are overflowing. Children dig in rubbish bins. Yellow biohazard bags are piled high just outside the door, suggesting serious medical issues and there’s no sign of proper medical facilities. Conditions in the centre amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

This is what can be seen in photographs and video footage sent anonymously to one French media outlet and to Amnesty International that highlights mistreatment of irregular migrants in a European Union country as the EU’s political bodies allow longer detention of migrants.

The footage is of the Pamandzi detention centre in Mayotte, an overseas territory of France that lies between Madagascar and northern Mozambique.

The detention centre has a capacity of sixty places, which is regularly exceeded, reaching up to 220 people. The detention centre has no beds, no private space is provided for families or for “children” (no table, no cots for babies, no games), despite a number of very young children in detention.

It’s not just in France that migrants are mistreated. The Greek authorities are detaining 160 unaccompanied migrant children on the island of Lesvos. The children are held in the Pagani detention centre in Lesvos in degrading and inhuman conditions.

They sleep on the floor in flooded and overcrowded rooms and are very rarely allowed to go outside. Their access to lawyers is limited.

The European Union (EU) has, in many cases, taken responsibility for ensuring that member states’ laws and policies meet human rights standards. However, on the issue of migration, the EU has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution, inspiring the term “Fortress Europe”.

On 9 June 2008, the Council of Ministers of the EU formally adopted a new EU Directive that allows detention pending deportation for up to 18 months. Its apparent aim is to stem migration flows to Europe.

“Eighteen months is excessive, disproportionate and unacceptable as a common EU standard,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International’s head of refugee and migrants’ rights. “Under international law, migration-related detention should only be used as a last resort, should be for the shortest possible time and not prolonged or indefinite. Amnesty International strongly believes that unaccompanied children should never be kept in detention.”

The Directive could lead to an increase in the use of prolonged detention in EU member states where many countries, such as Ireland and Spain, currently have much lower detention limits.

The Dutch government already announced that it would implement an 18 months’ detention time limit, while Italy proposed to increase its maximum period of detention from 60 days to 18 months. Before this, only two states, Malta and Germany, allowed a maximum of 18 months’ detention. Latvia continues to allow a limit of 20 months.

Periods of detention in the Netherlands vary, with most people being held for less than three months. However, of the 20,000 people detained between 2004 and 2007, an estimated 11 per cent were held for between six and nine months and 10 per cent of the people spent more than nine months in detention when, for example, they were deemed to be an “undesirable alien” or if their identity or nationality was open to question.

“EU states must respect the rights of migrants regardless of their status, nationality of where they are held” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali. “In particular, they must ensure that detention is only used as a last resort and that detention conditions are humane.”

Click here to access the briefing paper.

Click here to access the revealing video on the Pamandzi detention centre in Mayotte (F).

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