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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sur la Côte d’Azur, la chasse aux Tunisiens bat son plein

by Marie Barbier

’Catch a Tunisian’ is the current by-word on the Côte d’Azur

Translated Saturday 19 March 2011, by Shelagh Rothero and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In their haste to expel any Tunisians who have managed crossed from Italy into France over the past few weeks, the authorities have been straying outside the legal system. In Cannes, the police have been told to arrest Tunisians as a "matter of priority".

But should the arrival of a few dozen Tunisians be causing the French authorities to go out of control? Since the beginning of February, the Alpes-Maritimes Prefecture has recorded 113 arrests of Tunisians, a ‘significant’ increase. The heavy artillery been brought to bear: reinforcements from CRS [1] and an increase in surveillance patrols on roads, railways and sea routes. Discriminatory instructions have been issued and abuses of rights have multiplied.

During one weekend in February a notice was pinned up on the walls of the Cannes police station stating that the arrest of Tunisians should be a priority. It requested employees of CSP (department of public security) to "question any Tunisian nationals of irregular status found in the railway station and surrounding area on Saturday and Sunday". Denounced by the Unité SGP Police [2], this internal memo was eventually withdrawn on Sunday evening. The prefecture defended its actions stating that "the strengthening of surveillance operations and the measures in force during the weekend applied to all foreigners in an irregular status, whatever their nationality".

Except that it is Tunisians who are currently filling up the administrative detention centres (CRA) in south eastern France. The detention center in Nice alone held 21 Tunisians in its 38 cells. The center at Nîmes had been closed for a week owing to a scabies epidemic, but eventually re-opened to admit 20 Tunisians. At least five more have since arrived.

According to organisations involved in the CRA, "hasty" judgements have been made outside the legal framework. There have been illegal arrests and detentions, wrongful use of handcuffs, lack of information concerning legal rights, etc. David Rohi, coordinator for CIMADE (the Ecumenical Aid Service), noted that on one Saturday, the CRA police even applied to the custody magistrate in order to keep the detainees for longer. Since it is usually the Prefect who does this, the referral was judged inadmissible and they were freed.

The administration is clearly in a hurry to expel Tunisians from French territory. Assane Ndaw, of the Refugee Forum said "they don’t stay for very long - two or three days at the most before being sent back to Italy or deported to Tunisia". So far no-one has asked for asylum in France. "They are young men coming to work or to join their families", added David Rohi . "Some are just passing through on their way to other European countries."

[1a national police force

[2a police labor union

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