The Ministry of Public Accounts has opened an investigation against customs officials over allegations of racism against minor Ukrainian refugees traveling aboard a train to Paris, the Le Parisien newspaper reported.
The incident has come to light ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is observed on March 21.
Five minors aboard the TGV express were confronted in a hostile manner by the police and French customs officials at Perpignan station, the report said.
The incident took place on Sunday as a family of seven Ukrainians, including five minors, boarded the TGV train from Barcelona in Spain to Paris. As the train crossed the border and entered France, customs and police officials arrived to inspect travel and visa documents.
The minors were seated separately from their parents, who were in another bogey of the same train. As the officials demanded to see their documents and began to question them in French, the routine inspection took an aggressive turn, according to passengers on the train. The Ukrainian minors showed their passports but were unable to reply in French to the officials.
The customs official started screaming: “Romanians, Romanians, are you Romanians? You speak Arabic?” a witness said. The officials also violently shook one of the kids who was sleeping to wake him for questioning.
The inspection ended after 40 minutes following the verification of passports of both the parents and minors.
Passengers who captured the event in the video published by Le Parisien said the comments of the civil servant were “scandalous,” and he kept on repeating them.
The public accounts ministry told the news outlet it has opened an internal investigation over the conduct of the officials.
The French government has declared its open support to the Ukrainian nationals and has until now welcomed over 13,000 refugees fleeing the war. The SNCF railways, which operates the high-speed TGV rail service, has offered free train travel in France to people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
The Spain-French border is one of the main routes used by undocumented migrants and refugees to claim asylum in France, or travel upward in the north to Calais in order to enter the UK by crossing the English channel. Refugees who undertake the train journey routinely face harassment from railway and customs officials.