Asylum Seekers Stuck in French Detention as EU Courts Slow

(Bloomberg) --

Several asylum seekers in French custody set to be sent to Italy are stuck in detention as the coronavirus-related lockdown overrides the European Union rules requiring them to be sent back.

Court of appeals in various parts of France are dismissing challenges brought by asylum seekers complaining about the extension of their detention after their transfers to Italy were canceled. The rulings all cite an EU regulation known as Dublin III that requires asylum requests to be handled by the country where they were made.

While justice ministries across mainland Europe close courtrooms to the public and postpone all but essential hearings, the extended detention for asylum seekers demonstrates how the virus is affecting all parts of the legal system.

Typically, asylum seekers arriving in Europe through Italy might be apprehended there and make a request and then be released pending a decision, which can take months. If that person is temporarily detained for lack of valid residency documentation in another European country, such as France, he should be sent back to Italy. Right now that’s not happening, as countries step up measures to contain the spread of covid-19.

‘Force majeure’

An Algerian national detained in France for theft was set to be transferred to Italy in line with Dublin III rules. But his Feb. 19 flight to Naples was canceled so French authorities extended his custody. He was among a handful of people in similar circumstances who appealed to challenge an extension.

But an appeals court in the north of France ruled earlier this month that the flight was canceled due to ‘force majeure’ reasons, not administrative failings, and rejected his request. Another man, from Tunisia, who has been detained since Jan. 15 in the south of France, also asked to be freed because his extradition to Italy was postponed.

The man said he’d been detained 50 days, according to a transcript in the March 6 ruling rejecting his request that was released last week. He said he was worried that he’d become ill in custody, and would go to a relative’s house in Toulon to await his departure.

U.K. Stays Open

  • Germany’s Federal Administrative Court announced Tuesday that is will close down most of its business until at least April 19 after because several employees are infected with the coronavirus. The Leipzig-based court is operating only under an emergency plan, canceling all hearings except for those that can’t be postponed. The building will be closed to the public.
  • U.K. Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said in a statement that the government’s comments on limiting public gatherings “will clearly have an impact on the operation of all courts in every jurisdiction. It is not realistic to suppose that it will be business as usual in any jurisdiction, but it is of vital importance that the administration of justice does not grind to a halt.”
  • A U.K. judge suspended the country’s biggest ongoing corruption trial until March 31, the first such delay in the courts. Three men are charged for allegedly conspiring to bribe Iraqi officials in 2008 to secure major contracts to build oil export facilities.
  • An officer at a High Down prison in the U.K. tested positive and is self-isolating at home. The prison is operating as usual with staff taking all necessary precautions, according to a prison service statement.
  • H.M. Courts & Tribunals Service said in a tweet overnight that business at U.K. courts continues and any changes will be communicated directly to those affected.

Britain said it plans to ease prison overcrowding by boosting the numbers of inmates given early release.

Hundreds more prisoners may be given electronic tags and curfews under the proposals, which were planned before the virus outbreak and are being reintroduced by the government.

The U.K. wants the early release period to be extended by six weeks so that inmates can be released up to six months before scheduled, the justice ministry said.

Prisoners jailed for at least three months but less than four years can be considered for release under the tagging scheme.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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