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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Cimade accuse « Notre dernier rapport »

by Association "Cimade"

The Cimade Issues its "Final Report"

Translated Saturday 14 November 2009, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

The organization for solidarity with migrants had the possibility to enter all centers for retention, and has published an annual report on their state, and the condition of the prisoners since 2001. Today we publish the editorial introduction to the report [1] for 2008, rendered public yesterday.

For testimony by six migrants who have passed through this system, see
the accompanying article.

The desire of the minister of immigration, in May 2009, to attribute the mission of defense of foreigners held in retention centers to several "operators split up into geographic districts" renewed the long-standing "polemics" begun by Brice Hortefeux in the summer of 2008. Over and above the particular case and the impact of that decision for the Cimade [2] — the association being sanctioned — we must read these events as a significant element in the evolution of public policies with respect to foreigners and to those who aid them.

The breakup of an associative experiment unique in a place of confinement.

The minister of immigration did not fail to explain that it is only natural "that a mission assigned to one association should henceforth be assigned to several." Brice Hortefeux never stopped justifying his reform in terms of his "legitimate wish to put an end to this monopoly." This murderous propaganda is careful not to recall the facts: the Cimade has sought for more than five years to share its actions, strengthening them via complementarity with non-governmental organizations, first among these being the Secours Catholique [3]. The Hortefeux reform, continued by Eric Besson since 15 January 2009, was set, from beginning to end, on the exact opposite course to that recommended by Cimade, so as to be completely sure to destroy this unique experiment built over a 25-year period.

This mission was neither conceived nor constructed by the State. Since 1984 it was the Cimade that, bit by bit, invented, developed this particular action, and managed to convince the public authorities to "tolerate" it. In the beginning, 25 years ago, it was a question of humane and social accompaniment: the Cimade was asked to be present among those foreigners in confinement in order to assure that their expulsion take place with the least ill consequences possible. Starting from this "humane" presence, the Cimade managed, during the 1990’s, to have its rôle extended to include legal aid, a veritable defense of legal rights. It was necessary to make a show of force, already in 1993, for the ministers to accept the recognition of this judicial function. This was accepted with difficulty by the central administration, and there was already, during the summer of the year 2000, an attempt to marginalize the Cimade in order to shift these responsibilities to a public office. At that time, political protests sufficed in order to confirm this chapter of "defense of rights". The Cimade profited from this movement by adding a third chapter to its work: public witness to conditions of detention in the various centers.

The publication, in 2001, of the first complete report, a factual and critical status report on the mechanism of expulsion of undocumented persons, provoked no opposition from the government. This annual report has become a rallying point for the press and for specialist observers, just as it has become "normal" that the Cimade bears witness and communicates regularly concerning the most shocking excesses encountered on a daily basis. The step by step creation of this action, unique in Europe, a mission financed and allocated by the State to a non-governmental organization to defend the rights and to exercise critical vigilance on the conditions of expulsion of undocumented persons, hasn’t been a "long easy-flowing stream." It was developed, then accepted as such, by governments of the Right and of the Left, who saw in this method the possibility of obtaining information outside administrative channels, a sort of guarantee, thanks to the association and to its audience, that one can be immediately informed when there are grave excesses of the police services in the "jails of the Republic" [4].


Certain elements provide a key to understanding what is happening, and reveal the evolution of the French attitude with respect to European policies. We refer our readers to other analyses in order not to go in detail into the essentially security-minded and repressive logic of the European Union concerning control of migrations. This tendency was conceived of by the European police already by the end of the 1980’s in the context of the fall of the Berlin wall, of the mounting of populism in Europe, and the economic and social effects of triumphant neo-liberalism. It considered immigration to be a menace that should be contained. This policy was unable to come to grips with the questions really at hand: how to reduce economic, demographic and democratic inequalities between North and South, these being the principal motors of migration? It consequently turned the solution into a bottomless pit, reinforcing, year after year, the arsenal of security measures with liberty-destroying and discriminatory laws and practices. The control of external boundaries began to resemble almost a war against migrants who take unthinkable risks to try at any price to reach the European soil. Reliable statistics count thousands of dead in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic these past twenty years.

With the same intention, the expulsion of undocumented persons has become a major objective throughout Europe. From a system of expulsion and control still amateurish in the 1990’s, the majority of European countries have shifted into a higher gear, in the post-9/11 atmosphere, with the means to enable massive expulsions. In order to reach these objectives, the confinement of migrants and of those seeking asylum became the rule, for periods that became several months in "prisons for immigrants", built to confine hundreds of persons. This return to "internment centers" since the beginning of the 2000’s, with as corollary the resurgence of police practices that we believed had been relegated to the dungeons of European history, has quite naturally given rise to resistance on the part of non-governmental organizations and of a sizable number of civil societies attached to democratic freedoms.

In this environment, France had for a long time been, if not a model state, at least one that preserved some semblance of a framework protecting the fundamental rights of migrants: a duration of retention the shortest in Europe (22 days), the size of confinement centers relatively limites, guarantees of procedures and routes for appeal of decisions (except in overseas departments), special protection (this has been eliminated these past two years) of vulnerable persons (minors, sick persons, those requesting asylum, etc.) Without a doubt the accepted action and the role of counter-weights turned over to associations — in particular to the Cimade as concerns retention, or Anafe in the waiting zone — were not without a certain effect on this "restrainment" in its repressive aspect. The other non-gvernmental organizations in Europe watched with astonishment the general nature and quite specific features that developed in France between politicians, administrators and associations concerning the expulsion of undocumented persons.

Administrative retention is rendered banal

The orientations developed since 2003 to permit the "industrialization of expulsion", and above all the accelerated implementation this line since the creation of the Ministry of Immigration in 2008, surely sounds the death-knell for this type of French exception — replacing it we see the demand to meet quotas of expulsion, the tripling of the number of places in retention, attempts to restrain appeal procedures and to control magistrates, a considerable pressure exerted upon those in charge of reception structures for immigrants or for asylum-seekers — all this creates a increasingly tense climate, with mounting pressure and intimidation. Must we consider this French evolution the refusal to resist the European system, which each day becomes more distant from the values of justice, equality and liberty? We can imagine this is so. One of the more symbolic acts in this renunciation is the vote, supported by France, 18 June 2008, of the directive "return" [6] by the European parliament, and its adoption in December 2008 by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, two days before the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A "directive of shame" that makes a banality of the retention of migrants and of asylum-seekers, justifying this up to periods of 18 months, which authorizes the jailing of unaccompanied minors and their expulsion even to third countries, which introduces an automatic ban on returning to Europe in a five-year period, etc. This text — which the members of ministerial cabinets judged in private to be "insane" — is in direct contradiction to the values expressed in the European convention on the safeguard of fundamental liberties and the human rights. It is meaningful that the offensive to put an end to the unique experience of the Cimade inside places of retention was arbitrated and decided during the summer of 2008, some weeks after the adoption of this directive, as it is meaningful that the Cimade is to "be punished" for the European campaign against this "directive of shame", which it had initiated in the autumn of 2007.

The Limit is Reached

Once Europe had clearly chosen the path to a showdown, and the European parliament
had legitimized the potential resurgence of internment camps and mass expulsions, the French government gradually toed the line of this headlong rush: to put into action a project of "effective removal of illegal foreigners", the state and administrative machine, previously annoyed by, but tolerant of the associative counterweight, militant and volunteer, obstacles that delay or even prevent actual expulsion, has decided that these "pebbles in the shoe" have become unsupportable, now that a "change the scale"
is necessary and that the measures must become truly "effective".

Hence a battery of new measures: the action of non-governmental organizations inside places of retention is disrupted by the call for bids and a logic of competition imposed on associations, the shelters for foreigners become subject to control measures and are invited to collaborate, volunteers and militants offering aid to undocumented foreigners
fall under suspicion and are warned — when they are not actually taken into investigative custody — that to participate in any public expression or action of contestation makes one liable to arrest for "outrage" or "rebellion" or "inciting to rebellion", etc.

The protestations of certain political leaders in face of unflattering comparisons convinced no one. The success of the film Welcome, the considerable public attention given to the movement of "delinquents in solidarity" [7] launched by the association Emmaüs in the Spring of 2009 give evidence that a substantial fraction of the public has become aware that the limits have been reached, that the unconditional attachment of French society to the respect for the human being is roughly treated by an administrative and police machine that is in the process of grinding up lives and expressions of human solidarity.

[1This report is down-loadable in its entirety at the site.

[2The Cimade Comité Inter-Mouvements Auprès Des Evacués had its origin in 1939 as an interdenominational association to aid populations evacuated from Alsace and Lorraine by the nazis. It is at present a broad network of volunteers providing expertise and counsel to immigrants trapped in the web of French immigration policy.

[3Catholic Aid

[4Geôles de la République, Louis Mermaz, Stock, 2001.

[5Why this haste to dismantle this organization?

[6directive retour, see eurodicautom

[7délinquents de solidarité

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