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Unaccompanied migrant children camping at Jules Ferry Park in the 11th district of Paris, July 2020.
© 2020 Nicolas Guyonnet/MSF
Since June 30, unaccompanied migrant children have been camping in central Paris, stuck in limbo while a judge decides on their fate. Aid organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières and Utopia 56, set up a tent camp in a Paris park to shelter about a hundred children who have been sleeping on the streets.
In order to receive child protection services, these children must be formally recognized as such. But because local authorities initially rejected them using flawed age assessment procedures, their cases are now before a juvenile judge.
It’s shocking that children are spending their nights in a Paris park. Aid groups hoped the prominence of a large tent camp might push authorities to finally remedy the situation, but three weeks later, this is still not the case.
Paris is not the exception. In other parts of France, national and local authorities continue to hand off responsibility to each other for the care of unaccompanied migrant children. In the meantime, the children are deprived of protection and exposed to dangerous and unhealthy conditions on the streets.
Children on the streets, or forced to live in extremely precarious conditions, most of the time face difficulties accessing education and health care. France has for years failed to live up to its obligation to protect unaccompanied children on its territory, violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments. Numerous bodies, including humanitarian and human rights nongovernmental organizations, the French Ombudsman, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights, have called on the French government to act. It is time it did so.
Conditions in the tent camp are worsening. An aid worker told Human Rights Watch that children stuck there seem to be getting increasingly tense and frustrated that French authorities are doing nothing to help them or offer a solution.
France should ensure every child on its territory enjoys effective protection, including by providing necessary resources to child protection authorities. All migrants who say they are unaccompanied children should be treated as children while age assessments and appeals are carried out. As such, they should be provided with accommodation, schooling, and health care. None of them should have to sleep on the streets or camp in the middle of Paris.