State of emergency at the French-Italian border


For several months now, the European border and coast guard agency (FRONTEX) has been making the headlines. Indeed, Frontex allegedly assisted and took part in pushbacks of asylum seekers into the sea, which is contrary to the international law and to the Geneva Convention. The Greens/EFA succeeded in their fight to obtain the implementation of a Frontex Scrutiny Working Group to inquire on the agency’s actions at the external borders of the EU. Nevertheless, the greens MEPs do not forget that the EU migration policy o is also responsible for tragedies at its internal borders.

The restriction of legal routes for migration together with the principle of first entry of the current Dublin regulation force asylum seekers to file for asylum in the first European country they set foot in. This encourages them to take insane risks to cross borders to reach their country of destination.

This is the case at the French-Italian border.

Action de Maraude menée par Médecins du Monde et l'association Tous Migrants à Montgenèvre le long de la frontière Franco-Italienne, en présence du Député Européen Damien Carême. Crédit photo (c) Eric Franceschi
Maraude action carried out by Médecins du Monde and the association Tous Migrants in Montgenèvre along the French-Italian border, in the presence of Greens/EFA MEP Damien Carême. Photo credit (c) Eric Franceschi.

Since January 29th, each week, green MEPs take turn alongside the asylum seekers and the volunteers who help them, in Montgenèvre, where human rights violations worsen day by night: pushbacks, pressures on volunteers and caregivers… This operation, called “les Maraudes Solidaires” (supportive patrols), is a strong act of solidarity. The operation in a nutshell.

1. “Les Maraudes solidaires”: a unique action to face indignity

Montgenèvre is a mountain village at an altitude of 1,800 meter above Briançon, at the French-Italian border, where many illegal, barbaric and dangerous actions take place. Why illegal, barbaric and dangerous? Because the asylum seekers who reach the border are systematically pushed back, in disrespect for international regulations, the Geneva Convention included. At the border post, especially since the border police (Police aux frontières – PAF) resources have been strengthened, applications for asylum are neither heard nor examined, basic welcoming and humanitarian gestures are not respected and the volunteers – helpers, caregivers, supportive escorts – are subject to constant and unbearable pressures from the law enforcement authorities.

2. “Les Maraudeurs solidaires” (supportive escorts): committed elected representatives

The “Maraudes solidaires” are carried out by men and women, French Green MEPs and senators, committed to brotherhood, dignity and the respect for human rights.

3. A clear mission…

The “Maraudes solidaires” are carried out within the framework of a partnership with asylum seekers rights organisations that has been going on for a few years. The main mission of the “maraudeurs solidaires” is very clear: testify of what they witness on the ground, of the behaviour of the law enforcement authorities towards the volunteers, of the procedures applied when the asylum seekers arrive. Constant presence on the ground, request to access and visit the places where the asylum seekers are deprived of their liberty in the border post’s premises, etc. The “Maraudes solidaires” focus on solidarity, which is particularly abused at the internal borders of the EU. The elected representatives who, in turn, each week, stand by the organisations, the volunteers, the asylum seekers and all those dedicated to enable solidarity to remain alive, come what may.

4. … and intense feelings

On site, the situation is tragic. Each week, after their “maraudes solidaires”, the elected representatives testify of their experience. Highlights:

Greens/EFA MEP Benoît Biteau in Montgenèvre along the French-Italian border.

Benoît Biteau, 29 January 2021:

“As representatives of the French Republic, of the European Union, we have to condemn the breaches of the laws regulating the status of asylum seekers. It is decisive. We must remain grounded and not simply listen to the official discourse.”

Greens/EFA MEP Caroline Roose during a Maraude action in Montgenèvre along the French-Italian border.

Caroline Roose, 6 February 2021:

“I think of the people trying to escape a life that has become impossible in their own countries. They have to cross so many borders to get to these steep slopes covered with unpacked snow, most of the time, wearing only light sneakers…

How many had to go back without being able to apply for asylum? How can we imagine whole families, pregnant women, elderlies, vulnerable people crossing these mountains?”

Along the French-Italian border.

Damien Carême, who is behind the project of “Maraudes solidaires” for the French Greens delegation in the European parliament, 12 and 13 February 2021:

“Treating human beings as badly as we treat cattle is unacceptable. Making up anything and everything, any pretext, to pushback people, whatever their situation, is unacceptable. What is happening at the French-Italian border is despicable. The way France behaves towards asylum seekers is despicable, just as the way the European Union acts is despicable. But… the only battles lost are those that are not fought. We have to shake the public opinion. We have to make what happens known. We have to tell. We have to explain. In contrast to the barbaric actions of the right-wing nationalists and to the nonsense spouted by our politicians about migration and the so-called “migratory flows”, we have to demonstrate hospitality, solidarity and humanity. There is no migration issue. There is a tragedy of hospitality.”

5. Assessment after 5 weeks of “maraudes solidaires”

Mountains, France, are also lands of solidarity and brotherhood

In the face of the intense media coverage of the heinous actions of a few nationalists, the “Maraudes solidaires” highlight the constant, brotherly, humanistic actions that have been carried out at the border for weeks, months, and years on end by volunteers who heal, welcome and accompany the asylum seekers with all the warmth they can still gather.

For the supportive elected representatives, being in Montgenèvre each week this winter 2021 means providing a strong support to the volunteers, caregivers, activists…

It also means preventing the law enforcement forces from harassing them with fines and bogus arguments, taking the curfew as an excuse, in the context of a global pandemic. Over the last several days, the law enforcement forces have stopped issuing arbitrary fines. That’s a first victory.

A way to call on the European Union and on France about what is going on.

The presence of elected representatives in Montgenèvre, as part of the “Maraudes solidaires”, highlights the blatant disregard of the fundamental rights of the asylum seekers, the disregard of their access to their rights, the disregard of their access to healthcare and the violations of international regulations.

Greens/EFA MEP Tilly Metz in Montgenèvre along the French-Italian border.

This state of emergency justifies the extension of the action in Montgenèvre, an action to defend dignity and brotherhood.

To defend human rights.

Every week, find here the testimonies of the French Green MEPs about their experience and feelings after they participated in the maraudes solidaires.