Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter

The Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter is a monthly publication that focuses on the provision of refugee legal aid. It is aimed primarily to be a resource for legal aid providers in the Global South where law journals and other resources are hard to access. It complements the information portal
http://www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org
The newsletter follows recent developments in the interpretation of refugee law; case law precedents from different constituencies; reports and helpful resources for refugee legal aid providers; and stories of struggle and success in refugee legal aid work.

End of detention of illegal immigrants in France

Contributed by Lily Parrott.

On 5 June 2012 in France, the Cour de Cassation (the highest court) ruled that it is no longer legal for police to arrest and incarcerate people simply for the offense of being an undocumented/illegal resident. The practice, which had been in place since 1938, allowed illegal migrants to be jailed for up to one year in centres sometimes with poorer conditions than prisons and/or fined up to €3,750. The case that resulted in the change involved a group of Algerian migrants who argued that under European law, it is unjust and illegal to detain people simply for lacking documents.[1]

In response to this ruling, the Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that the government would act quickly and officially to amend French law, but maintained that the ultimate aim of legislation in this field is to remove illegal aliens from the country.[2] However, now that immigration is ‘an administrative rather than criminal procedure’, [3] France is obligated to comply with European law. A migrant can now only be detained if there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed an imprisonable offense, the same as any ordinary citizen.[4] However, simply switching the focus from criminal to administrative action is not the end, as is highlighted in the Cimade annual report (2010):

'These administrative and police practices, these conditions for stopping people and denying them freedom, for readmission at borders, are something that we note and cannot fail to draw a damning conclusion on: that of an obsession with statistics at the expense of the law. In other terms, it is a matter of a policy that, far too often, pushes the authorities into expelling more foreigners at any cost, while disregarding procedures and the most basic rights, while it implements a removal policy that displays its ineffectiveness and injustice.' [5]

In 2011, France expelled more illegal immigrants than any other year- nearly 33,000 according to Interior Minister Claude Gueant [6] – and human rights groups claim 60,000 are affected by detention each year (including many Roma).[7] The inhumane imprisonment of illegal immigrants has recently been highlighted by several reports documenting conditions in detention centres and the closure of a notorious CIE in Málaga, Spain. This attention is bound to have a large impact not only in France, but may also set a precedent for other European countries. Ironically, however, this change in legislation came only a few weeks before France made headlines for its declaration of a ‘war on illegal migrants’ and police began rounding-up hundreds of Roma families for deportation.[8]

[1]’Fin des gardes à vue des étrangers pour séjour irrégulier'(End of custody for foreigners residing irregularly)

(06 June 2012), Franck, Johannes, Le Monde.

[2] ‘French Police Lose Power to Detain Illegal Immigrants' (6 July 2012), Weiss, Layne, France 24.

[3] ‘French Police Lose Power to Detain Illegal Immigrants’, Weiss.

[4] ‘Fin des gardes à vue des étrangers pour séjour irrégulier’ (End of Custody for Foreigners Residing), Franck.

[5] ‘Centres et locaux de rétention administrative. Rapport 2010.’ , translated in ‘The Ongoing Disgrace of Detention

Centres’, Statewatch.

[6] ‘Fin des gardes à vue des étrangers pour séjour irrégulier’ (End of Custody for Foreigners Residing), Franck.

[7] ‘French Police Lose Power to Detain Illegal Immigrants' (11 July 2012), France 24.

[8] ‘France declares war on illegal migrants: Riot police smash camps and hundreds rounded up for deportation as

Socialists take on gipsies' (9 Aug. 2012), Alen, Peter, Daily Mail.

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