One can be stern and make an objective decision void of sympathy or fear when it comes to decision-making affecting adults. But such is not the case for children and minors. There is a common understanding that they are an exception – a ‘special case’ which needs to be prioritized through a ‘best interest’ or welfare perspective. The 1989 International Convention on the Rights of Children held in France emphasizes the responsibility of the State to provide protection and special aid to every child situated in certain precarious situations. Faced by hundreds of unaccompanied minor migrants in Parc des Olieux, did the French government accord to them all those which the convention endeavors to uphold?
The legal battle for the rights of the undocumented minor migrants of Parc des Olieux started a year after they began to settle in the place. Under the French law, the government is required to protect and provide shelter to these minors, regardless of their nationality. Confronted by this issue, Lille’s departmental board recognized the responsibilities of the state but claimed that they no longer have a place to accommodate these minors. Nevertheless, ASE stepped in to verify whether the undocumented migrants’ claim of being minors was true. The department declared that some of them were already adults whose papers were deemed to be insufficient or false. A ‘filtering’ process by the authority seems to have taken place to determine who were to be exempted from the general regard and treatment of the state toward undocumented migrants on French soil.
On 30 August 2016, MEL made an urgent appeal for the dismantlement of the camp. Acknowledging itself as the owner of Parc des Olieux, the city hall of Lille argued that the camp has brought disturbances and hygiene problems in the quartier that MEL and the city were planning to revitalize. But, Emilie Dewaele, a public attorney who fights for children’s rights in the region, insisted that the department was not making enough efforts to address the precarious living conditions of these unaccompanied minors and criticized its lack of solution. She opposed the negative perceptions of the department toward the minor migrants and even said that they were bringing life to the community by organizing concerts and football matches in the neighborhood. She asserted that these unaccompanied migrants have no intentions to go to Calais and then to the UK. They only wish to stay in France and to “integrate”.
A little over a week later, the administrative tribunal rejected the appeal of the department, maintaining that their demand did not pose any “utility” or “urgency”. Furthermore, it recognized the greater precarity the minor refugees could experience in dismantling the camp and the possibility of having another camp built somewhere else. In the end, the tribunal called for an immediate action on the part of department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais as well as the city of Lille to “resolve the lodging issue before the winter season and to take measures to end this situation that is contrary to human dignity”.
MEL’s legal representative, Gautier Bertrand was “surprised” with the decision. It was not long, however, before the administrative tribunal changed its mind and approved the dismantlement of the refugee camp. On 11 October, it released an ordinance confirming the immediate evacuation of the minor migrants in the park and the plans of transferring them in various locations outside the city, i.e. a youth hostel in Dunkerque, a respite center in Cassel and a center for asylum seekers (CADA). The tribunal accepted the State’s proposed relocation of the minors; Dewaele judged otherwise. According to her, the plans of the department were “insufficient” and would only discontinue the education which they were receiving in Lille as well as the social ties they have developed with other minors and the community. She then proposed that the state reacquire buildings considered as public properties to house the minor migrants with an appropriate accompaniment and supervision. The tribunal simply dismissed her request, saying that it “serves no purpose”. But to whom does it serve no purpose? Definitely not to the unaccompanied minor migrants who simply seek a roof over their heads. In the end, the dismantlement of the camp eventually pushed through and so did the relocation of some minor refugees outside Lille.
In his argument for the expulsion of the minors in Parc des Olieux, Bertrand argued that the phenomenon that is the refugee camp is a threat to the health, cleanliness and security of the minors and the residents. Above all, “the park must regain its purpose,” he said. If the state is more concerned with maintaining the function of the park as a public space for morning walks and afternoon chilling rather than upholding the human rights and providing basic needs of these minors, we could not help but accuse the state of doing its job at the bare minimum. Nonetheless, we cannot simply deny the significance of governmental powers that are based in the territory. And regardless of the friends the minors made or the community’s tolerance and the willingness to help, the state has the right to prioritize what it wishes to prioritize. Unfortunately, the case of minor migrants of Parc des Olieux, although considered ‘special’ compared to that of undocumented adult migrants, is not wholly different. They continue to be in a “threshold, [a place of sovereignty], in which life is both inside and outside the juridical order” and therefore are not categorically an exception to the rule.
AFP. (2016, 30 August). Lille : l’expulsion du camp de migrants du parc des Olieux en débat au tribunal administratif. Retrieved from http://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr.
Agamben, G. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998)
Billé, C. (2016, 16 June). A Lille, cinquante jeunes migrants campent en attendant une prise en charge. Retrieved from http://www.lemonde.fr.
G.D. with AFP. (2016, 02 September). Lille : Les migrants du parc des Olieux ne seront pas expulsés. Retrieved from http://www.20minutes.fr.
Glick Schiller, Nina & Noel B. Salazar. 2013. Regimes of mobility across the globe. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(2): 183-200.
LeMonde.fr with AFP. (2016, 21 October). La justice valide l’évacuation d’un camp de migrants à Lille. Retrieved from http://www.lemonde.fr.
Libert, M. (2016, 23 November). Lille : Les derniers migrants du jardin des Olieux ont été évacués. Retrieved from http://www.20minutes.fr.
**Quotes translated from French by us.