Ventimiglia, 4th August, 2023 – Systematically pushed back at the border by French police – often with violence, inhumane treatment as well as arbitrary detention – and left without adequate shelter and with limited access to healthcare in Italy. In its new report Denied Passage – The continuous struggle of people on the move pushed-back and stranded at the Italian-French border, the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) documents the conditions reported by hundreds of people transiting in the city of Ventimiglia, in North-West Italy, and attempting to cross the border towards European countries.
Between February and June 2023, MSF – which runs a mobile clinic in Ventimiglia to assist individuals in transit – provided medical treatment or orientation to services to 320 patients. Among them, 215 patients reported acute conditions, including skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as musculoskeletal complaints and injuries, while 14 had chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. MSF also offered health promotion as well as socio-medical group sessions to 684 people.
Among the 1.004 people assisted by MSF, 79.8% declared to have previously attempted to cross into France, making multiple attempts, only to be pushed back at the French border. Among them are men, women and children who, after fleeing their countries of origins and embarking on very dangerous journeys to seek safety, are once again exposed to violence, humiliation, threats and inhumane conditions in Europe.
Many of the people encountered by MSF reported procedural violations during the notification of the refusal of entry by French authorities, such as inaccurate transcription of personal data, lack of information or absence of intercultural mediators,
Vulnerable people such as minors, pregnant women and new mothers, elderly or severely ill persons are not exempted from this practice. More than a third among the 48 unaccompanied minors assisted by MSF reported to have been pushed back to Italy, while several individuals told MSF team to have been arbitrarily detained in containers during the night, without any specific protection for women and children. They have also stated that food and water are not provided systematically, medical care is often denied, sanitary facilities are inadequate, and people are forced to sleep on the floor in situations of overcrowding. Moreover, during the reporting period alone, MSF staff in Ventimiglia identified at least four cases of family separation occurring during pushbacks, with some instances causing trauma for the victims, including children.
Moreover, access to adequate shelter, healthcare, clean water, or sanitary facilities is extremely limited for people transiting in Ventimiglia. Despite the recent opening of two new ‘first assistance centers’ in the city (Punto Assistenza Diffusa – PAD), where extremely vulnerable migrants who have been pushed back from France can find refuge for a few nights, dozens of transiting people are still forced to sleep on the streets or in makeshift shelters. Two out of four promised PAD are still not functioning and fundamental services such as accommodation, healthcare and legal support are provided by local associations and civil society. Skin diseases, gastrointestinal, urinary, and upper-respiratory tract infections are just some of the ailments registered by MSF team, often a direct consequence of the poor living conditions.
Drawing from the testimonies and medical data collected by the MSF team in Ventimiglia and at the Italian-French border, MSF urges Italy, France, and other European countries to implement all necessary measures to prevent further harm to this vulnerable population, and specifically calls on them to:
- Put an end to systematic and indiscriminate pushbacks, and to degrading and inhumane treatment both at European Union internal and external borders;
- End the practice of arbitrary detention of people on the move and the use of violence at borders;
- Ensure humane and dignified treatment as well as access to healthcare and decent living conditions for people transiting in Ventimiglia, across Italy and throughout Europe;
- Guarantee and increase safe and legal passages for people seeking assistance and protection in Europe;
- Guarantee the right of all foreign children to seek asylum on French and European territory.