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France: Sangatte progress, concern on repatriations

Briefing notes

France: Sangatte progress, concern on repatriations

29 November 2002

SANGATTE: As of the end of the day yesterday, the seven UNHCR interviewing teams operating in the Sangatte centre near Calais had conducted detailed interviews with 577 individuals - around one-third of the total. At the current fast rate - boosted by the arrival of two more Kurdish-speaking team members - the systematic in-depth registration process should be completed by the beginning of January.

The population of the centre stands at 1,789 people with valid badges, and seems to have more or less stabilized. People who disappear from the centre for a period of more than 72 hours lose their badge, and with it the right to remain in the centre.

After an initial period of uncertainty following the closure of Sangatte to newcomers on 5 November, the inhabitants of the centre are being extremely cooperative and are showing no reluctance to be interviewed. Indeed, for the most part, they are very keen to tell their stories. The interviews are, of course, confidential and will remain confidential.

Vulnerable cases, including unaccompanied minors, widows and disabled people, are still being discovered during the interview process. In the case of all unaccompanied minors, and some other vulnerable cases - including all those who request asylum in France - we ask the French authorities to provide more suitable alternative accommodation. We do not have a precise number of those transferred out of the centre so far, since the actual transfers are carried out by the French Red Cross, who run Sangatte

In addition, the UNHCR teams have so far identified 61 possible family reunification cases, which have been referred to our offices in other European countries and are being discussed with the governments there.

One trend that has emerged during the interviews is that quite a few people seem to have been displaced within their own countries prior to deciding to leave altogether. Many of these seem to be in a very weakened and traumatized condition.

AFGHANS: Elsewhere in France, UNHCR has received confirmation that eight Afghans were forcibly deported from France back to Afghanistan earlier this week. They were part of a group of 15 who were apprehended near Metz in north-eastern France and were put through an accelerated asylum procedure (under which, if they lodge an appeal, they can still be deported back to their home country before the appeal is heard). This is the first time this has happened in France since the Tripartite Agreement was signed between the governments of France and Afghanistan and UNHCR on 28 September, and UNHCR fears this may mark a breach of the spirit of that agreement, which placed the focus on voluntary returns at least until end of the winter.

The same emphasis on concentrating initially on voluntary returns, and only later - providing the situation in Afghanistan is suitable - possibly moving on to involuntary returns for asylum-seeking Afghans who are judged not to be refugees, underpins the Tripartite Agreement signed with the UK government in October, and also the EU agreement on Afghan returns reached yesterday in Brussels.

UNHCR is also concerned that using an accelerated procedure, which allows people to be expelled to their home country before their appeal is heard, is not suitable for asylum seekers generally - and especially when they come from a country as complex, fragile and unsettled as Afghanistan.