Rome, June 15 (IANS) French border guards detained migrant children as young as 12 in cells without food or water, cut the soles of their shoes and stole their mobile phone SIM cards before illegally sending them back to Italy, charity Oxfam said on Friday.
The report by Oxfam also cited the case of a “very young” Eritrean girl, who was forced to walk back to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia along a road with no pavement while carrying her 40-day-old baby, the Guardian reported.
Italy accused France of “hypocrisy” earlier this week for failing to share the burden of the ongoing migrant crisis. The controversy developed when French President Emmanuel Macron slammed what he called Italy’s “cynicism and irresponsibility” in sending back a migrant rescue ship with 629 people on board.
Italy’s new anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who blocked the Aquarius rescue vessel from docking in Sicily, accused France of turning its back on 10,524 migrants at the border between January and May.
The allegations came two months after French border police were accused of falsifying the birth dates of unaccompanied migrant children in an attempt to pass them off as adults and send them back to Italy.
“We don’t have evidence of violent physical abuse, but many (children) have recounted being pushed and shoved or shouted at in a language they don’t understand,” the report’s author Giulia Capitani told the daily.
“And in other ways the border police intimidate them — for example, cutting the soles of their shoes is a way of saying, ‘Don’t try to come back’.”
Daniela Zitarosa, from the Italian humanitarian agency Intersos, said: “Some children have their mobile phone seized and SIM card removed. They lose their data and phonebook. They cannot even call their parents afterwards.”
France tightened rules at its border after 84 people were killed in a terror attack in Nice in July 2016.
According to Oxfam, 17,337 children arrived in Italy in 2017, 15,779 (91 per cent) of whom were unaccompanied.