- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has witnessed extremely vulnerable people being pushed back indiscriminately by French police.
- MSF urges Italy, France, and other European countries to put an end to systematic and indiscriminate pushbacks.
- We call for the end of arbitrary detention of people on the move and the use of violence at borders.
Ventimiglia - People have been systematically pushed back at the Italian-French 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.
MSF calls on Italy, France, and other European countries to implement all necessary measures to prevent further harm to vulnerable people in transit, and to put an end to systematic and indiscriminate pushbacks.
In a new report Denied Passage - The continuous struggle of people on the move pushed-back and stranded at the Italian-French border, MSF documents the conditions reported by hundreds of people transiting in the city of Ventimiglia, in Northwest Italy, and attempting to cross the border towards European countries.
Between February and June 2023, our teams, who run 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. We also offered health promotion as well as socio-medical group sessions to 684 people.
We spent the night in the cold and this morning we were pushed back and taken to Italy, but we have no news of my wife.Jean*, an asylum seeker from Ivory Coast
“Our team has witnessed extremely vulnerable people being pushed back indiscriminately by French police, regardless of their individual circumstances and without appropriate assessment,” says Sergio Di Dato, MSF project coordinator in Ventimiglia.
Many of the people encountered by our teams 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 people or severely ill persons are not exempted from this practice. More than a third among the 48 unaccompanied minors assisted by our teams reported to have been pushed back to Italy, while several individuals reported being arbitrarily detained in containers during the night, without any specific protection for women and children.
People 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, our staff in Ventimiglia identified at least four cases of family separation occurring during pushbacks, with some instances causing trauma for the victims, including children.
“We were stopped yesterday in Nice by the police,” says Jean*, a man from Ivory Coast. “My wife is pregnant. She was taken to the hospital because she fainted while they were handcuffing her.
“My two-year-old son and I were taken to the border police station in Menton. We spent the night in the cold and this morning we were pushed back and taken to Italy, but we have no news of my wife.”
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 centres’ 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 PADs 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 our teams, often a direct consequence of the poor living conditions.
“It is crucial that people in transit, regardless of their legal status, are granted the right to receive comprehensive protection and services that address their needs,” says Di Dato.
“The bottleneck created in Ventimiglia is not an isolated case but rather reflects the larger trend of European migration policies that prioritise containment and securitisation over fundamental rights and international protection.”
Drawing from the testimonies and medical data collected by our 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 these vulnerable people, 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.
Read the full report Denied Passage - The continuous struggle of people on the move pushed-back and stranded at the Italian-French border here.
*Names changed to protect identity.
MSF has been working in Italy since 1999, assisting migrants and refugees arriving by sea, in reception centres and informal settlements, providing them with medical, humanitarian, psychological and socio-healthcare assistance, in partnership with Italian authorities.