Building owned by the Marseille Church, where about 320 migrants currently live, including families and about 170 unaccompanied migrant children, Marseille, France, October 2019. 

© 2019 Collectif 59 Saint-Just

In Marseille, France, unaccompanied migrant children whom child protection authorities failed to provide a living place for have been squatting in an unoccupied building owned by the Catholic church. Now, even though it’s the Bouches-du-Rhône department that has failed to protect them, the authorities are prosecuting the children for illegal occupation of this building.

This perverse situation illustrates the French authorities’ shortcomings in protecting these children. About 170 unaccompanied children live in the building, according to the Collectif 59 St-Just and Réseau éducation sans frontières (Education Without Borders), groups working with youth.

The squat is overcrowded and infested with bed bugs, and is wholly inappropriate for children. But because the child protection system didn’t find them a place to live as it should have, the children view the squat as their only solution.|

Some of the youth being brought to court have been legally recognized as children and should be taken into care by child protection services. Others are in the process of having their age assessed, which sometimes takes weeks, and should be placed in shelters. According to local groups, as of yesterday, 36 children who had received a placement order from a judge, and should legally have been taken into care, were still living in the squat.

Age assessment in France has not always been fair, and Human Rights Watch has documented inappropriate age assessment procedures in Paris and the Hautes-Alpes. However, in Marseille, even some who were recognized as children after these procedures are left in the streets.

On October 11, in a case brought before Marseille’s administrative court on behalf of a migrant child, the court acknowledged that the squat’s living conditions are not acceptable for unaccompanied migrant children. It ordered the department to provide appropriate accommodation, as well as to take the child into care.

Even though the authorities’ failings have forced the children to live in precarious conditions, it is the children, because of the eviction proceedings, who have had to appear before a court. This is wrong. It’s past time for authorities to assume responsibility for these children, including those awaiting an age assessment, and find them a safe place to live and give them the care to which they are entitled.