African migrants dying trying to cross mountains into France

Photo: Migrants walk through snow on a steep ravine as they attempt to cross part of the Alps mountain range from Italy into France, near the town of Bardonecchia in northern Italy, on 21 Dec 2017.

TMP – 15/01/2018

When the snows melt in the spring, French rescue workers expect to discover the bodies of African migrants who have died crossing the Alps mountain range.

Rescue workers say between 10 and 12 migrants are now crossing the Alps from Italy to France every day, some barefoot, despite heavy snow and temperatures as low as -20C. One African man died last week when he fell from the clifftop cabin where he had been sheltering onto a highway, The Times newspaper reports.

Yann Fillet, head of the Mobile Emergency and Resuscitation Service in Briançon in France, said that rescuing migrants in the mountains “has been a daily occurrence for us since last spring. We thought the crossings would stop in the winter. That has not happened.”
The dangers facing migrants attempting the journey are many. “I’m afraid that there’s going to be a catastrophe,” Mr Fillet said. “You just need an avalanche, or for their telephones not to work, for them not to have the right number or for them to get lost. We’ll find their bodies in the spring.”

On the Italian side of the border, migrants have had to call for help from rescue workers on six occasions in the past month. On 20 December, six migrants needed help after getting lost in the mountains on their way to the French town of Névache. Three migrant children were also found in difficulty on the same day. Many were wearing only trainers and soaking tracksuits, unprotected against the freezing weather.

Ten days earlier, a group of 12 African migrants had to be rescued, some having lost their shoes and gloves in the deep snow. The groups set out early in the morning on the 11 kilometre trek, climbing to over 1,700m and often struggling to cope with the deep snow.
There are two tunnels that can be used on the route, but French police often lie in wait at the other end. Those apprehended are taken by bus to Bardonecchia on the Italian side of the border.

“The climatic conditions are the real obstacle,” Francesco Avato, the mayor of Bardonecchia, said. “The kids risk their lives because they are not properly equipped for the mountains. They have crossed the desert and the Mediterranean, but the last mile can be very dangerous. They have no idea that within 15 minutes of setting out they can start to suffer from hypothermia.”