In Geneva, these young migrants who disconcert the judges

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In Geneva, three letters crystallize the tensions: MNA, for “unaccompanied minors”. The problem of welcoming these young migrants, marked by wandering and excluded from asylum because they come from countries considered to be safe, has already set people alight. From now on, the question of their propensity for street delinquency has been added to a very emotional debate. The problem is twofold. Real unaccompanied minors increasingly occupy the juvenile judge. And so-called unaccompanied minors, those who play on their age to improve their lot a little, are now in the crosshairs of the prosecution. Enough to ignite a little more the controversy between those who find that life is too hard for particularly vulnerable people and those who call for going beyond a certain angelism. But what about in the judicial field?

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Struggling with this very mobile population (the number of unaccompanied minors in the canton varies between 35 and 116 with a huge mix), with uncertain years of birth and multiple identities, Olivier Boillat, president of the Juvenile Court, does not hide his concern: “This problem exists and monopolizes a lot of people. There is no question of treating unaccompanied children in a different way and we must show all the necessary humanity, but these cases confront us with particular difficulties, both in terms of age determination and the tools available. judge to find an adequate solution. ”

What the numbers say

The figures obtained from the jurisdiction concerned make it possible to grasp the extent of the phenomenon. From January 2019 to September 2020, the Juvenile Court opened 789 proceedings concerning unaccompanied minors (56 were for robbery), of which 339 from June 2020. This represents around 30% of the court’s total activity. . The alleged nationalities lead overwhelmingly to the Maghreb (75% from Algeria and Morocco).

Apart from cases serious enough to stand trial, most cases are settled by a conviction order, sometimes with a preventive stay in a closed center if violence has been used – for example, a brutal tearing of a bag or watch – and if a risk of leakage exists (necessarily). Thus, 55 unaccompanied minors were sent into pre-trial detention during the cited period. Among the offenses most often retained, the law on foreigners (220 cases) whose violation is punished with a reprimand if no other mischief is added, theft (80 cases), narcotics (30 cases), theft (20 cases) and property damage (20 cases). “Our message to minors is to say that they are in an irregular situation, but that they will be able to receive help if they do not commit another crime”, emphasizes Olivier Boillat.

Some get the message, some don’t. Depicted as young people in “survival mode”, these boys often abuse drugs and alcohol, do not necessarily support a framework or schedules, and easily find themselves in risky situations. Three of them, arrested for throwing a manhole cover in a restaurant window, put it back after celebrating their release. For another minor, caught for the theft of two jackets, the judge secured a place in the hostel and provided him with a detailed plan to get there. He never showed up.

The age in question

The other challenge is to determine the age of these young people who have neither papers nor a reliable identity. Olivier Boillat specifies: “There is no a priori, and we do not give up, considering that the person in front of us is of age, only if we are deeply convinced of it. Sometimes, like with the onset of baldness and a few wrinkles, it’s pretty obvious. Other times, it is more limited and it is necessary to resort to police intelligence, via Interpol or the country of origin, or even to commission an age expertise. Without clear results establishing a majority, we consider them to be minor. ” It also happens that a presumed minor, once placed in La Clairière, confesses of himself his majority in order to be transferred to Champ-Dollon prison, where he can smoke and watch television without being subjected to pressure. educational.

Still over the same twenty-month period, the ages claimed or established for unaccompanied children range from 11 years for the youngest to 33 years for the oldest! The Court dismissed 123 cases considering that the defendants concerned did not fall within its jurisdiction. For example, the fingerprints showed that one of them was known by five different aliases in France and each time as an adult. In all, 30 age expertises – which are based on bone maturation and dentition – have been ordered by the juvenile justice system, but these take time, are expensive, are very controversial and ultimately give a range of about three years which does not necessarily remove the uncertainty, especially if it is between 17 and 20 years.

Raised priority

Cases of “false minors” are therefore sweeping over the Public Prosecutor’s Office where the Attorney General Olivier Jornot, never very tender with itinerant crime, has made it one of the priorities of his common policy with the Council of State. Two years ago, the emblematic theme of public space security had yet disappeared from this roadmap due to the significant drop in certain crimes. Here is this problematic come back in force, this time integrated in the chapter of violence and entrusted to the new Group of thefts and street assaults (GVAR), a kind of unit specializing in tracking down watch robbers and other values, whatever their age, which roam the sidewalks of the city.

“The fear of renewed insecurity required strong measures,” said Olivier Jornot. Even if no special directive is planned to lock up faster and longer those accustomed to illegal residence who do not necessarily have other wrongdoings to their liabilities, as was the case in 2012, the sanctions imposed in this new context will inevitably contribute to the filling of Champ-Dollon.

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Criticized methods

In the meantime, the legal service for unaccompanied minors, attentive to respect for the fundamental rights of these migrants, is worried about the repressive wind which is blowing more and more strongly and denounces police harassment tinged with racial profiling and humiliation. “This unit is hunting them. Some are even arrested on the way to our office in the Grottes district when they come to seek advice. Such a policy can only put these young people in check, ”notes lawyer Sophie Bobillier.

Criticisms refuted by the police commander, Monica Bonfanti: “The checks are carried out on just grounds and follow reports provided by victims of crimes or information drawn from video surveillance images. Our presence in the Caves is not linked to legal permanence, but to the insecurity felt by part of the resident population and which is corroborated by the observation of the offenses committed. ”

Between protecting public order and protecting these very battered young people, the balance is difficult to find. And the tension is not about to subside. But one thing at least everyone agrees: this problem is of great complexity and goes well beyond the framework of criminal justice.