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16 July 2020 – France

Logo of the Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, (Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, accessed on 16 July,
Logo of the Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, (Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, accessed on 16 July,

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the prison ombudsman, Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté or CGLPL, which also acts as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)), reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established. They also indicated that no legislation or regulation had been adopted to regulate non-citizens deprived of their liberty in immigration detention centres (centres de rétention administrative or CRA) or transit zones (zones d’attente or ZA) during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, certain legal orders (ordonnances) were adopted such as order n°2020-305 of 25 March 2020, amending certain rules applicable in administrative courts, such as court appearances.

The CGLPL indicated that the government failed to issue a general decision regarding the release of non-citizens detained in CRAs or ZAs, a move the ombudsman had called for in late April (see the 12 May France update on this platform). However, the suspension of flights led to the closure of several airports and in consequence, also of corresponding ZAs, including those in Marseille-Provence; Montpellier-Méditerranée; Nantes Atlantique; and Paris-Orly. The main ZA, ZA of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport remained open as well as police stations and “holding rooms” located in three terminals of that airport (2A; 2E; and 2F).

While the government did not heed the CGLPL’s call for closing all CRAs, many have been temporarily shut, the latest on 3 April (see 12 May France update on this platform). These include the CRAs in: Hendaye; Geispolsheim; Coquelles; Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande; Nice; Marseille; Sète; Perpignan; Plaisir; Palaiseau; the CRA 3 of Mesnil-Amelot; and CRA 1 of Paris-Vincennes). In Mayotte, the CRA was emptied on 23 March and transformed into a quarantine centre from 17 April to 15 May. On 15 May, the centre re-opened as an immigration detention centre. During this time, 12 CRAs stayed open: Bordeaux; Guadeloupe; Guyane; Lille; Lyon; Nîmes; Mayotte; Mesnil-Amelot; Oissel-Rouen; Metz; and Toulouse.

In addition, decisions regarding persons detained in ZAs that were subsequently moved to CRAs were taken based on decisions made by local authorities. For example, judges (juges des libertés et de la détention) responsible for monitoring detention decisions at the Bobigny tribunal decided, from mid-March until 8 June, to no longer provide hearings for people held in the ZA of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle. In effect, this meant that detainees had to be released after four days due to a lack of intervention by a judge, as provided by law. However, this was not the case in all local jurisdictions.

Also, in terms of detention decisions (the maximum duration of which is set at 90 days or, exceptionally, 210 days), judges responsible for monitoring detention decisions refused to extend detention measures in view of the lack of reasonable social distancing measures or insufficient precautionary health measures taken within the CRAs, and even considered the risk of spreading the virus outside France. This in turn led to many CRAs being shut down; those that remained open significantly reduced their capacity (most reduced their capacity by half). On 15 April, the number of persons detained in these centres was around 10 percent of its usual population. Yet, according to the CGLPL, several hundreds of persons were placed in CRAs between 16 March and 2 June.

Furthermore, the CGLPL stated that for those people released from ZAs or CRAs who did not exhibit any symptoms of Covid-19 no specific measures were taken. Those detainees who were released due to their contamination were oriented towards centres managed by the regional health agency (Agence Régionale de la Santé or ARS). However, certain persons were kept in detention after refusal by the ARS.

The CGLPL indicated that in all centres and detention sites, newly arrived detainees would go through a medical examination where their temperature would be taken. Systematic nasopharyngeal tests were only put in place in those places where there had been confirmed Covid-19 cases. In certain centres, detainees were tested this way only if they had symptoms of the disease.

The reduction in the number of persons detained in CRAs or in ZAs and health measures led to a reorganisation of accommodation arrangements. At the start of April, detainees were placed in rooms of two and this arrangement was maintained until 11 May. Nonetheless, detainees were forced to share the dining hall, showers, sinks, telephones, and toilets. The health requirements linked to the state of emergency should have led to a reorganisation of the premises, equipment and services, allowing precautionary measures to be taken.

While the frequency of cleaning and disinfection was stepped up, it reportedly remained insufficient. The availability of disinfectant gel and hydroalcoholic gel for detainees was inadequate, and often only provided at the entrance of the dining hall, at medical units, during meetings with legal aid, and at offices of immigration and integration. In the accommodation area, detainees have had soap and water.

In the Paris-Vincennes CRA, masks were available from mid-April onwards, following positive Covid-19 cases. In other centres, only in May were masks made available. However, no free provision of masks in the accommodation areas of the centres had been reported. On 1 June, one or two masks were provided with the “arrival kit” and could be replaced three to four times a day by requesting it from providers working in the centres. Police staff working in the centres were provided with masks, gloves, and hydroalcoholic gel during the month of April, and with Plexiglas visors at the end of April. Certain staff members have said that they only received such material after 11 May. The CGLPL said that often masks were not worn by police staff or detainees.

As regards removals, a large number of countries closed their borders, causing the suspension of flights. Activity at French airports was therefore drastically reduced as of 17 March. However, the CGLPL explained that persons were nonetheless removed from the 12 CRAs that remained open and the Charles-de-Gaulle ZA. In Mayotte, 210 persons were removed to Comoros, including 41 children. In metropolitan France, a total of 132 persons were deported from 10 different CRAs around the country during the state of emergency. The Paris Prefecture Police, in charge of the Paris-Vincennes CRA, did not provide the CGLPL with the requested information; however, 13 removals from that centre were reported between 16 March and 15 April, and another during the CGLPL’s 3 June visit. Among all these procedures, several “group flights” were organised to Albania and Romania. 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 have thus far been quite low in 2020.

In addition, the CGLPL reported that on 17 March, EU member states approved directives recommended by the European Commission, recommending the closure of external borders and states were allowed to control their internal borders. On 18 March, France closed its borders to foreign travellers with certain exceptions for residents and European Union citizens. These measures were then amended on 15 April and 12 May, slightly relaxing the measures.