French police 'falsify' migrants' ages to send them back to Italy
Seven charities, including Oxfam Italy and the Catholic organisation Caritas, claim that in recent weeks French officers altered birth dates on documents to make it appear that the migrants were older than 18.
The alleged tactic circumvents international rules that say that under-18s must be given protection and allowed to cross borders to reunite with family members.
The rule for adults, by contrast, is that they must apply for asylum and remain in the first EU country they reach - which in most cases means Italy, Spain or Greece.
The falsification of documents allegedly took place near the Italian town of Ventimiglia, on the border between the French and Italian Rivieras, where tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, many of them unaccompanied minors, have tried to cross in recent years.
"The French police falsify the documents of minors who try to cross from Italy into France," said Daniela Zitarosa, from the charity Intersos.
"We have the proof - many dates of birth were modified in official documents. Unfortunately this has become routine. French officials take no account of what the minors tell them and write fake birth dates on refusal-of-entry documents, sending them back as if they were adults."
In one alleged case, an Eritrean teenager, whose identity document showed he was born on Oct 1 2001, making him 17, had his papers changed by the police so that his birth date was recorded as Jan 1 2000, making him 18.
The charities have sent letters of protest to the Italian interior and foreign ministers as well as the European Commission.
The accusations are likely to antagonise already fraught relations between Rome and Paris over migrants and refugees.
© Daily Telegraph, London