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14 September 2020 – France

Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin,
Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin, "Coronavirus : le Conseil d’Etat refuse la fermeture des centres de rétention," Libération, 27 March 2020,

In its response to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey, La Cimade, a French human rights NGO that operates inside many of the country’s immigration detention centres (Centres de Rétention Administrative or CRAs), confirmed previous reports that the country had not implemented a detention moratorium since the onset of the pandemic. The organisation explained, however, that in centres where detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, new detention orders were suspended.

In apparent contrast to information previously obtained by the GDP–including from France’s prison inspectorate, which reported that detainees in some CRAs had been released by judicial order because of Covid-19 concerns (see the 16 July France update)–La Cimade stated that to their knowledge, no one had been released stemming from pandemic. The organisation added that even people that tested positive for the virus were kept in their cells or isolation cells, or in buildings dedicated to Covid-19 isolation. La Cimade also said that detainees were not systematically tested for the virus and that they were only tested at their arrival to detention centres if they presented symptoms. These tests were only introduced in March, several weeks after the pandemic had begun.

Additionally, according to La Cimade, removals were not suspended and were only reduced due to destination countries closing their borders. In consequence, La Cimade stated that people detained in CRAs were deprived of their liberty from mid-March despite the fact that removals could not be effectuated. The source added that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, France had not altered their policies towards removals and immigration detention.

In previous updates on this platform (see 16 July, 12 May, and 6 April), we reported that while the government did not close all CRAs, many were temporarily shut, the latest on 3 April. In addition, the GDP reported that on 29 March, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to close CRAs stating that “while the 26 CRAs have a capacity of 1800 spaces, only 350 people were detained by March 2020 and 152 on 27 March 2020.” (see 6 April France update on this platform). On 15 April, we reported that the number of persons detained in CRAs was around 10 percent capacity. In addition, a total of 132 people were removed from 10 different CRAs throughout metropolitan France from March to July. Yet, compared with the number of removals in 2018 (15,677 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,300 per month) and in 2019 (18,096 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,575 per month), the number of removals has thus far been considerably lower so far in 2020.

In July, Info Migrants reported that a study conducted by the Paris-based INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) found that “Covid-19 deaths were twice and sometimes three times higher among foreign-born French nationals or residents compared to their French-born counterparts at the height of the pandemic.” In March and April, 129,000 people died (from all causes) compared to 102,800 during the same period last year, an increase of 25 percent attributable to the pandemic. Additionally, the deaths of foreign-born people rose from 22 percent in 2019 to 48 percent in 2020. Info Migrants mentioned that the high death rate among these groups can be partly explained by the fact that immigrant groups in France tend to settle in poorer and more densely populated areas. The study also found that “for people born in France and living in a densely populated commune, deaths between 1 March and 30 April 2020, increased by 39 percent compared to the same period in 2019.” The rate jumped by 76 percent for North Africans and 158 percent for sub-Saharan Africans due to their over-representation in these municipalities.