Migrants hold a banner reading "SOS isolated minors unprotected and on the street = abuse" as they demonstrate against the living conditions of unaccompanied migrant children and the lack of accommodation, outside the departmental council building in Marseille, southern France, on January 11, 2019.

© 2019 Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered France to take steps to protect a child who was sent back to the streets in early March in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The victim, or applicant, is a Guinean boy, who on March 9 ended up back on the streets after the Haute-Vienne department, in central France, refused to recognize him as a child in need of protection. He appealed the decision to a juvenile judge, who has yet to rule on his case. Due to the urgency of the situation, his lawyer requested the ECtHR to intervene.   

On March 30, the ECtHR ordered France to ensure the boy has “access to housing and food until the end of the [COVID-19] lockdown imposed on the population.”

Despite the threat posed by COVID-19, child protection authorities in several departments – including in Gap, in the Alps region, and in Marseille – are abandoning unaccompanied migrant children who are forced to live in unsanitary and sometimes overcrowded places where they have no protection against transmission of the virus or other illness.

In Marseille the authorities refuse to provide unaccompanied migrant children with housing and care despite juvenile and administrative judges’ orders to do so.

Despite the Secretary of State for Child Protection’s announcement in a recent tweet that “every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter,” whether “deemed a minor or an adult,” 23 unaccompanied migrant children rejected by the Hautes-Alpes department and awaiting appeal are currently living in very precarious conditions in a squat in downtown Gap.

In Paris, despite the announcement by the authorities that unaccompanied children awaiting an age assessment were to be accommodated in a gymnasium, an estimated 200 unaccompanied children have not been provided with shelter.

These children should be treated as children – and given care and shelter –  until an age assessment procedure has been completed in accordance with relevant regulations, and a juvenile judge has handed down a decision on their case. This presumption of minority is an essential protection, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international authorities have concluded.

By abandoning these children to inadequate living conditions, authorities are breaking the law and expose these children to the risk of COVID-19 infection. The ECtHR’s protection order reminds France of its child protection obligations. France should finally respect them.