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20 June 2022 – France

Protestor Holding a Sign Outside a CRA, (Quentin Vernault & Hans Lucas (AFP),
Protestor Holding a Sign Outside a CRA, (Quentin Vernault & Hans Lucas (AFP), "Covid-19: Dans les centres de rétention administrative, la situation devient incontrôlable," L'Humanité, 27 December 2021,

In early June, France’s independent detention monitoring agency, the Contrôleur Général des lieux de Privation de Liberté (CGPL), released a report on its work, which heavily criticised operations at the country’s immigration detention centres (centres de rétention administrative or CRA), including highlighting critical problems with respect to COVID-19 measures. The CGPL report found that the living conditions in the country’s CRA’s were very poor and described the detention regime as “inhumane.” The report highlighted prolonged detention periods, limited health protocols, and old run-down facilities. As regards COVID-19 protective measures, the CGPL said that in December 2021, as the fifth wave of the pandemic hit France, detainees were still held in collective rooms, had their meals in common rooms, and that vaccination against COVID-19 was not systematically offered to detainees even though they were exposed to significant risks of contamination.

The report comes after several months during which France has struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19 in its CRAs, which were struck by a major wave of cases starting in December 2021. However, shortages in medical staff reportedly led to delays in testing of detainees in some CRAs. While many detainees presented COVID-19 symptoms, in some cases they remained detained together, reportedly without any provision of soap, hydroalcoholic gel, or masks. On 10 December 2021, medical staff at Mesnil-Amelot conducted 22 COVID tests of the 74 detainees, of which 17 PCR tests came out positive. Detainees who tested positive were transferred to the Plaisir CRA, which was already running at maximum capacity. As a result, authorities were forced to place some positive detainees in solitary confinement. These cells do not have windows or showers and there is no possible contact with anyone.

In the Nice CRA, 12 COVID-19 positive tests were reported in January 2022. According to Infomigrants, detainees who tested positive were placed in isolation cells, while the rest of the centre failed to apply any social distancing rules, according to a CGPL report in February 2022 report. The centre is under equipped with sanitary gel and the sanitary conditions are poor. Migrants placed in quarantine have restricted access to lawyers and hearings before the court of appeal are only available online.

In January 2022, InfoMigrants reported that the Rouen-Oissel CRA had reduced the number of detainees in the centre, with 35 detainees present on 8 January, and isolated detainees who tested positive. Yet, La Cimade reported that the effectiveness of these measures was limited and that there was a lack of hydroalcoholic gel and masks. The prohibition for detainees to go outside has increased the level of fear among detainees as well as the level of violence. La Cimade expressed concerns that there will be a growing number of suicide attempts and cases of self-harm. In November 2021, a detainee committed suicide in the Rouen detention centre due to the conditions of detention in the centre since the beginning of COVID-19. Aid groups have repeatedly pointed to the ongoing disregard of detainees’ fundamental rights by French authorities; in an open letter, Anafé (National Association for Border Assistance for Foreigners) criticises the quasi mechanic decision to send back migrants: “if the conditions for entry or residence are not met, they are screened, locked up and sent back.”

Moreover, on 17 January 2022, authorities opened a new CRA in Lyon. According to InfoMigrants, the country has doubled the capacity in CRA’s. Three other centres are due to open soon in Orleans, Bordeaux, and Paris. With these new centres, the total capacity in France’s CRA’s will be of 2,157 places in contrast to 1,069 in 2017. A member of the Migreurop collective said that there was a “prisionisation of detention centres” as everything in these centres “reminds us of prison facilities.” Clochard added that the extension of the maximum length of detention from 45 to 90 days in 2018 through the Asylum and Immigration Law, has ‘trivialised’ “these modes of confinement.”

The pandemic had led to temporary decreases in the numbers of people held in immigration detention. In 2020, 28,000 people were detained in CRA’s whereas in 2019, there were 53,000. As Global Detention Project noted in previous updates on this platform, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 several centres were temporarily closed, including: Coquelles CRA; Hendaye CRA; Mesnil-Amelot CRA; Marseille CRA; Nice CRA; Palaiseau CRA; Paris-Vincennes CRA; Perpignan CRA; Plaisir CRA; Rennes Saint-Jacques de la Lande CRA; Strasbourg-Geispolsheim CRA; Sète CRA (see 16 July 2020; 14 September 2020; 10 November 2020; and 10 May 2021 updates on this platform). All of these have now reopened.

In the meantime, the French government has tabled controversial proposals concerning the treatment of asylum seekers in the country. In early June 2022, during a meeting with EU interior ministries, France proposed relocating some 10,000 asylum seekers to other member states. The plan, which the government calls a “voluntary solidarity mechanism,” would include financial incentives for countries that agree to host the deported asylum seekers. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin claimed that “a big majority of countries have shown themselves favourable to this solidarity, and about a dozen countries are favourable to relocations, which is very positive.” However, the Austrian Interior Minister rejected the ideas, saying that he was “absolutely against sending the wrong signal to people smugglers.” The Netherlands also stated that it would not take in asylum seekers under the proposal.