Dear Readers, staying true to the ethics and ideals that have allowed us to create L’ALTRO and make it an active participant in the public discourse, we publish a moving and first-person account this week. It is a story of denied rights in the heart of the European Union, a harrowing ordeal that we share unapologetically in the name of civil rights, human rights, free information, and the duty of reporting.
In 2023, it’s understandable to feel as if we’ve stepped back in time to a period before 1985 when France and its fellow Nations signed the Schengen Agreement. This seminar agreement enhanced the freedom of Citizens and safeguarded internal security within the European Union. Italy became a signatory in 1990.
However, the events we report on occurred in France, where a disabled man and his two assistants experienced discriminatory treatment at the hands of the border police in Toulon.
The following is their story, as narrated by Giuseppe, a quadriplegic person who witnessed his assistants apprehended by law enforcement without any explanation, subjecting them to a harrowing experience. Left isolated and without the crucial support he needed, Giuseppe faced a medical emergency. We are pleased to receive and publish Giuseppe’s account, which provides insights beyond his personal ordeal. Today, he aims to ensure that these events are widely known, with the hope that those responsible will be identified and held accountable in the name of fundamental rights, basic ethical principles, and civic and humanitarian values.
We urge our readers to share this article as widely as possible. Let’s make sure it reaches Brussels!
My name is Giuseppe Idone, I was born in Rome on 7/17/1962, where I live. I am a retired psychiatrist and psychotherapist, married, I have a son. I have been a person with quadriplegia since 1979 due to spinal cord trauma. I and two of my assistants of Indian nationality spent the night of September 25, 2023 at the Holiday Inn City Center hotel, located at no. 1 of Av. Rageot de la Touche, in the city of Toulon, France. It is here that the following day the serious violation of personal dignity that my two assistants and I experienced took place. We are talking about denied rights in the heart of the European Union.
Giuseppe’s Story: A Quadriplegic’s Journey with His Two Indian Assistants – Where and When the Events took place
We embarked on our journey to France by car from Rome on September 21, with our destination being the city of Lourdes. After several stops, we reached Lourdes. We resumed our journey on the morning of September 25. We arrived in Toulon that evening, intending to spend the night before continuing our travels on the morning of September 26, heading to Genoa.
On the morning of the 26th, we enjoyed breakfast at Bar de la Marine at 1 Pl. Gabriel Pér just a short distance from our hotel. We planned to continue to Genoa on the morning of September 26th.
After breakfast, I informed my friends that I would take a short excursion to the port of Toulon. I use an electric wheelchair that allows me to navigate urban spaces independently.
As we said our goodbyes, they returned to the hotel to retrieve their belongings from my van, as we planned to depart for Genoa at 10 AM.
While heading to the port, my two assistants encountered border police officers a few meters from the bar. These officers insisted they follow them to their nearby police station, at 33 Rue Berrier Fontaine.
My assistants had to take off their shoes and belts and display their documents, which were completely valid because they had been living and working in Italy for many years with legitimate residence permits. Nevertheless, the border police officers didn’t trust them. They went so far as to assert, wearing smirks, that the documents were counterfeit. They seized their cell phones and insisted on reviewing their emails.
The Harassment by the Border Police: Threats and Unjust Detention
They faced questions such as “Who is the President of India?” “Who is the Prime Minister of India?” and “Name some Indian cities.” Subsequently, one of the two Indian citizens inquired with a police officer about the cause of their detention. The officer informed them that the judge would notify them the following day, and they would be held for at least 24 hours until the magistrate’s decision. They were cautioned against further inquiries, as it could result in an additional 20-day detention.
The authorities demanded evidence regarding the date and time of their entry into French territory. In response, they presented an SMS typically received on mobile phones when crossing a foreign country’s border. The police officer read the SMS with a smirk and promptly asserted that the mobile phone belonged to someone else. Feeling increasingly desperate, the two Indian citizens explained to the police officers that they urgently needed to assist a person with a disability waiting for them at the nearby Holiday Inn City Center hotel. However, the officers responded callously, dismissing their concerns by implying that the disabled individual could manage independently.
Then were confined to a dimly lit cell for hours.
At the hotel, I remained completely unaware of these events. Upon my return around 9:45 AM, I couldn’t find them, and the car was empty. I repeatedly called their mobile phones but received no response, assuming they might have gone for a walk and lost track of time.
Afterward, someone snatches his phone, and a woman with a rude and condescending tone launches into an arrogant speech. I struggle to comprehend her words, so I ask if she speaks English. She responds by raising her voice, saying, “Pas du tout!” before abruptly hanging up the call.
The harm inflicted on a person with a disability
Overwhelmed by panic and complete disorientation, I entered the hotel and recounted the distressing situation to the two kind receptionists. They advised me to go to the nearest police station. I reached the police station, approximately 1 kilometer away, using my wheelchair, but they couldn’t provide any information. Returning to the hotel, the reception staff contacted the Italian Consulate in Marseille for assistance. They also called the police, who later arrived at the hotel. They also alerted the police, who later arrived at the hotel. The officers contacted several police stations and gendarmeries in the city, but it appears they didn’t detain any Indian citizens.
At this juncture, one of the police officers recommended that I file a missing person’s report for the two individuals, suspecting a potential kidnapping. As my desperation mounted, I called my wife in Rome, who was ready to take the evening flight with my 11-and-a-half-year-old son.
In that very instant, I began to feel physically unwell, as though I were on the verge of fainting.
Fortunately, there was an Italian Guest temporarily staying in Toulon for work. I asked him for assistance, tilted my wheelchair to have my head reclined, requested him to hold my head, and had one of the receptionists raise my legs to help improve blood circulation. I also asked them to unbutton my shirt and loosen my belt because I had difficulty breathing. I requested a cold and sugary beverage to prevent a collapse.
After about 15 minutes, with my head tilted and legs raised, I felt slightly better. I moved myself, and we canceled the ambulance.
As I expected, shortly after, I felt the need to empty my bladder.
I complete this task by inserting a disposable catheter with the essential assistance of another person. After I’ve drained my bladder into a disposable bag, my trusted assistant removes and discards the catheter.
Regrettably, I couldn’t ask the hotel staff to assist me with this maneuver. We searched online for a nurse willing to come to the location but couldn’t find one. I left the hotel and went to the nearest pharmacy to inquire if they had the contact information of a nurse. Fortunately, they did, and I called the nurse, who came and assisted me for 20 euros. I felt relieved, but the ordeal continued because we still didn’t know where my Indian friends were.
The two Indian citizens are located, but the police provide no reassurance about their release. More threats emerge
A few hours later, one of the three police officers at the hotel received a phone call. He informed me that they had located the two Indian citizens at the border police station for ‘checks,’ with uncertain release timing. The Italian Consulate in Marseille, closely monitoring and supporting me, also called to inform me of the situation.
Around 3:00 PM, finally, after 5 hours of suffering and tension, they were released and returned to the hotel, less than 100 meters from the border police station. Before leaving the cell, my two Indian friends asked the officers for a written report explaining the reasons for their detention, but they ignored the request.
Instead, the officers cautioned them about the potential for a six-month imprisonment. It’s important to clarify that my two Indian friends and assistants demonstrate exemplary humanity, discretion, composure, and manners.
After returning home, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appeared in all three of us who experienced this violent encounter with the Toulon border police in different ways.
We finally relaxed and had a meal, but before heading to Genoa in our car, I requested an escort to the border police station. Two individuals greeted me with stern expressions and an air of arrogance. They promptly asked for my identification. One of them then provided an arbitrary explanation, stating that non-EU citizens, even those with valid Italian documents, had no right to enter France without prior authorization, let alone drive within the country. In response to the stern policewoman (the one who had hung up on me), I asserted that when law enforcement detains someone claiming to assist a person with a disability, they should release them for the necessary duration to provide life-saving assistance. However, they maintained their mistrust of individuals’ statements. Unhappy with their explanations, they continued, informing me that, before detaining my two friends, they had observed them walking unaccompanied on nearby sidewalks through their security cameras. They claimed it was irregular and demanded my continuous presence with them.
Although I wanted to respond, I refrained. I felt like I was in a foreign legion barracks, akin to the Stan and Ollie movie I enjoyed as a child. Before leaving the border police station, I shook hands with one of the intimidating officers, who displayed his right index finger. Subsequently, they opened the fortified door, and I departed from that dreadful place, with the officers forcefully slamming the door shut, creating a loud noise.
The Return: Humiliated and Violated
We left Toulon, overwhelmed by humiliation and violation, around 4 PM.
That morning, as I headed toward the port of Toulon on a day that had started poorly, I found myself in front of the Palace of Justice. I paused briefly to read and reflect on the capital letters inscribed on the monumental entrance: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). I learned about the French Revolution during my first school years, and those words have always resonated with me. Even that morning, in front of the Palace of Justice in Toulon, I once again contemplated the significant contributions of the French people to the world’s understanding of human rights.
However, just a few hours later that morning, my Indian friends and I would experience hatred, sadism, intolerance, ignorance, and vengeance directed at us. While what I’ve described doesn’t reflect the overall mindset of the French people (often seen as colonialists), I’ll still be cautious when crossing their border in the future.
I state this candidly!
Similar episodes unfold daily, arising from the prevailing climate of disunity that has emerged in this dysfunctional world and era.
Upon returning to our homes, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appeared in all three of us, with us affected differently by this violent outrage from the Toulon border police.
If it weren’t for the intervention of the Italian Consulate in Marseille, for which I am immensely grateful, and their dialogue with the head of the Toulon border police, the two unfortunate Indian citizens would have remained in detention until at least the following day.
And what would have happened to me? Paris may be worth a Mass, but what about Toulon? And this will not go without a complaint, even to the International Court of Justice.