Press Release – 14 September 2017

Displaced people in Ventimiglia exposed to risk of death and injury, destitution and ill-health

New research by the Refugee Rights Europe highlights detrimental living conditions coupled with police violence and dangerous border crossings, creating a harmful situation characterised by chronic insecurity and extensive mental and physical health concerns.

On 21-24 August 2017, the Refugee Rights Europe (in collaboration with Refugee Youth Service France) carried out an in-depth research study in Ventimiglia at the French-Italian border. The research team surveyed 150 individuals in Amharic, Arabic, English, Persian and Tigrinya, thus covering approximately 20% of the refugees and displaced people in Ventimiglia at the time of the study. Among the people interviewed were a significant number of children – most of whom were unaccompanied. The survey findings were corroborated through field observations and informal interviews with local volunteers and international NGOs and charities operating on the ground. 

Key findings of the new report:

The current living situation in Ventimiglia appears to be wholly inadequate and detrimental to health and wellbeing

  • 60.1% of respondents reported having experienced health problems, since arriving in Italy.
  • Only 14.5% of those with mental and physical health problems had been able to access medical care.

Safety and security concerns are widespread

    • 74.8% cited the risk of death or injury at the border as the biggest danger for people passing through Ventimiglia. 42.9% knew of at least one refugee who had died at the border.
    • 52.8% of respondents had experienced violence by Italian citizens. Of those, 91.8% said they had been subjected to verbal abuse.
    • 40.4% of respondents had experienced police violence by Italian police.

Lack of access to food, clean drinking water, and sanitation facilities raises serious concerns

    • Only 17.9% said they had enough water to drink and 58.6% did not have enough food to eat.
    • 85.2% washed themselves in the river. Most also used the river to go to the toilet and sometimes to drink if desperate..
    • 60.1% had experienced health problems in Ventimiglia. Only 14.5% of them had been able to access medical care..
    • Only 58.6% of the destitute refugees said they had access to food every day.

There is a striking absence of information and support services

    • Only 7.9% had access to information about their rights and opportunities to break out of their current situation.
    • Of child respondents only 8% had access to information about their rights and opportunities to change their situation, and only 4.2% had access to legal representation.

The research raises serious concerns about the treatment of unaccompanied children

  • 91.7% of children interviewed were unaccompanied. 25% said they have family elsewhere in Europe.
  • 92% of minors said they felt unsafe in Ventimiglia.
  • 68% of child respondents reported not having access to food every day; only 4% said they had enough water to drink.
  • 48% of children had experienced health problems; of those only 16.7% were able to access medical care
  • 52% of child respondents had experienced violence by the Italian and French police
  • 80% of children had been detained in Italy or France; all child respondents had been forced back on trains from France to Ventimiglia.
  • 47.8% of minors know of another refugee who had died in Ventimiglia or at the border.
  • French authorities were overheard providing minors with false or misleading information to minors. This is harmful to minors who are sorely lacking reliable sources of information and guidance; it is also a violation of European Directives.

What the respondents told us:

  • “I have nothing to lose. I would rather die than not try [to cross the border].” Anonymous minor
  • “My right shoulder was broken and my neck was injured by French police at the border. There was French army deporting people as well. In Ventimiglia, my nose was broken by Italian police at the train station. (…) I don’t feel safe in Italy at all”.Sudanese 18-year old male
  • “The police beat me with a baton and they hit my legs to make us get down the mountain. Then they put me in jail for 24 hours without food, water or medical attention.”Sudanese 14-year-old boy

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said:

“Hundreds of refugees and displaced people arriving from Libya are currently trapped in a detrimental bottle-neck scenario in Ventimiglia. There’s an acute lack of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities and an alarming absence of safety and security. These hundreds of men and boys are sleeping rough on the river bank and around the town centre, and many were suffering from mental and physical health problems at the time of the study, some of which they had developed during their journey through Libya and which were now exacerbated by the precarious and violent living situation.”

Samer Mustafa, field research coordinator, said:

“This situation is very worrying. Young boys and teenagers are sleeping outside without any kind of safety, and people don’t even have access to clean drinking water. This is not a situation for human beings and something must be done urgently to change this.”

Livio Amigoni of Eufemia Infopoint Ventimiglia, said:

“After the French declaration of a state of emergency and the tightening of the border in 2015, passage to France has become more difficult, but has not discouraged people to try to cross. Instead, it has driven individuals to try dangerous mountain passes and lethal motorways routes, and the situation also puts many people at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers. Moreover, France holds responsibility for the minors who arrive on French soil. Despite this, French police have been witnessed sending minors back on trains from France to Ventimiglia, denying them their right to protection.”

About Refugee Rights Europe

Refugee Rights Europe is a non-governmental human rights organisation and UK registered charity. We aim to fill information gaps relating to refugees and displaced people in Europe by conducting our own independent field research. Our organisation is run by individuals spanning a broad range of sectors and backgrounds. We are independent of any political ideology or religion, united by our commitment to defend the human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable groups of people.

For enquiries, please contact:

Marta Welander
T: +44 (0)7880 230979