France cannot systematically expel foreign nationals who irregularly enter its territory from a neighbouring country, the European Court of Justice ruled on September 22.
With thousands of migrants entering Italy via the island of Lampedusa on an almost daily basis, France has continued to push back irregular migrants from its southern neighbour. Other European countries have also closed their borders with Italy.
That did not sit well with several pro-migrant organisations in France, who took their concerns to the Council of State. That Council in turn went to the European Court, asking if a country that reinstated internal border controls can systematically expel migrants irregularly crossing its border, without taking into account the European “returns” Directive.
The CJEU gave a clear answer regarding its decision: “The Directive applies to any third-country national who has entered the territory of a Member State without fulfilling the conditions of entry, stay or residence.
“Under that directive, any illegally staying third-country national must, as a general rule, be the subject of a return decision. However, the person concerned must, in principle, be given a certain amount of time to leave the country voluntarily. Forced removal is used only as a last resort.”
The Luxembourg court stated that, in respect of a third-country national who is intercepted without a valid residence permit at an authorised border crossing point on its territory, a decision to refuse entry may be adopted on the basis of the Schengen Borders Code. It added that, in order to remove the person concerned, the common standards and procedures laid down in the Directive must still be complied with.
In August, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders – MSF) reported that individuals were consistently being forcibly returned at the Italian-French border by French law enforcement agents. MSF claimed that was frequently accompanied by instances of brutality, inhumane conditions and unjustified detainment.
Seeking safety is not a crime.
Saving lives is not a crime. pic.twitter.com/3Kl2M4yQWW
— MSF International (@MSF) September 21, 2023
Laure Palun, director of the National Association for Border Assistance for Foreigners (Anafé), one of the organisations that asked for the preliminary ruling against the French Government, called the outcome a “victory”.
The French Ministry of the Interior had not replied to questions from Brussels Signal at the time of publication.