Ground update: On the situation in northern France


Obstruction of access to the asylum procedure and family reunification

According to NGOs operating in Calais and Grande-Synthe, there are currently approximately 600-700 displaced individuals living in makeshift outdoors settlements in Calais and around 550 in Grande-Synthe.[i] Despite a large number of prospective asylum seekers present in these locations for numerous years, individuals in Calais and Grande-Synthe who may be eligible for asylum and Dublin III family reunification typically struggle to access the asylum procedure in France.

This is in part due to the lack of an asylum application facility to French asylum whilst living in the makeshift settlements. In addition to the difficulty of accessing reliable information about the asylum procedure in contrast to France’s obligations under Arts. 6 and 8 Directive 2013/32/EU, Art. 5 Directive 2013/33/EU and Art. 4(1) Directive 2011/95/EU, which reads “it is the duty of the Member State to assess the relevant elements of the application”.The provisions of the Dublin III Regulation paradoxically deter individuals from claiming asylum in France.

Due to the Regulation’s obligation on the EU country of first entry to register fingerprints and process the claim,[ii] displaced individuals who initially had their fingerprints taken elsewhere in Europe and who are stuck in Northern France, are reportedly not applying for asylum for fear of being sent back to locations where they were not provided with adequate reception conditions or protection, or where they experienced a particularly hostile and violent environment. The Refugee Women’s Centre (RWC) has noted single women, who have fled sexual or gender-based violence in their first country of arrival, being reluctant even to go to CAO/CAES centres where they will encounter state authorities, due to a reported fear of being entered a Dublin removal procedure.

Unaccompanied minors in Calais and Grande-Synthe currently face structural barriers as well as severe delays in accessing the asylum procedure and by extension Dublin III family reunification.[iii] Unaccompanied minors lack clear procedures to access the existing legal routes, it appears the Dubs places for children in northern France have now been filled and no further transfers are expected, although RRE has been unable to have this information confirmed by the UK Home Office.

Lack of provision of accommodation, destitution and homelessness despite entering the French asylum system

In addition, the negative experiences of the French asylum procedure appear to dissuade others from entering it. According to NGOs operating on the ground and RRE’s research, the dire conditions in Calais and Grande-Synthe are exacerbated by the lack of accommodation provided to individuals who have an active asylum claim in France.[iv] Likewise, those in Calais and Grande-Synthe who express a desire to claim asylum in France are left with no choice but to sleep outside for days or even weeks, susceptible to misinformation, police evictions and generally hostile conditions despite having entered the EU asylum system.[v] Tents, blankets and sleeping bags are provided by aid organisations,[vi] in stark contrast to France’s obligations under Arts. 17, 21 and 23 Directive 2013/33/EU.

During RRE’s field research, we came across hundreds of asylum seekers with active asylum claims in France, spending weeks or months sleeping next to destitute French individuals and heroin addicts under bridges in Paris, without access to support services, in environments where crime and substance abuse are widespread.[vii] Large proportions of minors living in Calais and Grande-Synthe appear either unaware of or unwilling to live in the state-run accommodation centre for minors in Saint Omer, due to lack of information and inadequate identification maraudes by both France Terre d’Asile in Calais and AFEJI in Grande-Synthe, alleged experiences of mistreatment (or rumours about such mistreatment), or a lack of progress on their asylum applications.

Currently, many people are dissuaded from going to these centres because the maraude associations are not permitted to give out any information as to the destination of the orientation buses. Furthermore, whilst some of the centres offer supportive living conditions, many in both regions do not appear to have the resources to properly care for the individuals residing there. In both Calais and Grande-Synthe minors are sometimes unable to access child protection centres due to insufficient spaces.[viii] Children are also required to go through an age assessment to obtain a place in a child protection centre, this, in turn, is off-putting particularly those vulnerable to exploitation and misinformation.

Lack of provision of information and legal assistance

Displaced people living in makeshift settlements in Calais and Grande-Synthe have lack of information about the asylum procedure or how to present themselves at the Préfecture in Lille, which lies in stark contrast to their obligations under Art. 5 and, where it concerns unaccompanied minors, Art. 24(1) Directive 2013/33/EU, as well as Art. 8(1) Directive 2013/32/EU.

According to Help Refugees, there is ‘a huge amount of pressure on associations, charities and NGOs to provide legal and other information’. The same organization reports a ‘general lack of information’ and ‘a lot of confusion’ about the asylum system.[ix] For example, the maraudes carried out by Audace in Calais aimed at orienting people towards state accommodation centres do not have translators in all the relevant languages, particularly Tigrinya and Amharic, despite a large proportion of the displaced population in Calais coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia. This lack of information is also the case during police operations in the makeshift settlements [x] and risks being unreliable that appears to oftentimes dissuade people from claiming asylum in France.

Police Violence, Forced Evictions

The French State’s shortcomings in its provision of adequate reception conditions are increasingly coupled with systematic police violence and harassment of displaced people forced to sleep in informal settlements, as well as futile cycles of forced evictions without a clear objective or provision of alternatives.

According to Help Refugees, the number of arrests has increased despite the number of displaced people remaining fairly stable. In oral evidence provided to the Home Affairs Committee on 22 January 2019 by Help Refugees, the NGO’s human rights observer team on the ground reported daily police evictions and up to 20 per week, with over 47 police clearances in the first 19 days of 2019.[xi]

 I. Recommendations


i. Improved access to the procedure and Dublin III family reunification

The French state with support from the EU Commission must urgently devise a migration management strategy for Northern France that ensures swift and adequate access to the asylum procedure, and by extension Dublin III Family Reunification in line with Art. 4 – 5 Directive 2013/33/EU and Arts. 4, 5, 6 and 8 Directive 2013/32/EU, and Art. 4(1) Directive 2011/95/EU. In practice, this entails:


  • The establishment of permanent asylum processing centres in Calais and Dunkirk (or at a minimum one such centre between the two locations) where individuals wishing to apply for asylum in France or enter Family Reunification procedures to join family members in other EU member states are given the opportunity to do so.

ii. Information and legal assistance

In line with Art. 5 Directive 2013/33/EU, to support the adequate provision of access to asylum and family reunification, provision of information and legal assistance free of cost and in languages that individuals understand are indispensable. Moreover, Art. 8(1) of Directive 2013/32/EU states “Where there are indications that third-country nationals…present at border crossing points… may wish to make an application for international protection, Member States shall provide them with information on the possibility to do so”. To ensure France upholds these obligations in practice, we recommend:

  • The establishment of permanent info-points in Calais and Grande-Synthe, providing information on:

– individuals’ rights and obligations, in line with Art. 5 Directive 2013/33/EU

– minors’ rights, including with regards to the asylum procedure, guardianship, accommodation and child protection services, in line with Art. 24 Directive 2013/33/EU

– the closest asylum accommodation facilities and how to reach them

– French and UK asylum rules & procedures

– the Dublin III Regulation, including family reunification provisions

– the risk of removals to other EU states in accordance with Dublin III

– legal aid NGOs providing information and assistance, in line with Rec. 22 Directive 2013/33/EU.

iii. Provision of accommodation

  • The French Ministry of the Interior, through the local Prefecture, ought to provide immediate adequate accommodation to all actual and prospective asylum seekers in northern France, particularly vulnerable adults. Accommodation structures should provide, at a minimum, social workers trained in trauma awareness, access to minimum material reception conditions as defined in Art. 2(g) of Directive 2013/33/EU and information about asylum and other relevant legal procedures through the use of interpreters.


  •  CAO/CAES centres for those who have not claimed asylum in France should be closely monitored by regional authorities to ensure uniformity in reception conditions, and full information about the centres should be provided to those oriented to them by Audace and AFEJI personnel. This would avoid individuals being dissuaded from going through the fear of arriving at an inadequate centre in an unknown location.


  • The French Ministry of the Interior, through the local Prefecture, ought to provide adequate accommodation to unaccompanied minors in Northern France, regardless of immigration status, with adequate social workers, translators and specialist support staff, including whilst age assessments are ongoing, as well as during the appeal process, in line with Arts. 22, 23 and 24 Directive 2013/33/EU.

iv. Police Violence

  • We encourage the EU Commission to leverage its authority and influence with national French authorities, to urge the General Director of the National Police (IGPN) to ensure that the objective of providing 25 days’ training for CRS per year is met and that such training is regularly reviewed. This should include international human rights obligations, safeguarding and protection mechanisms for vulnerable displaced people (in line with Arts. 21 and 22 Directive 2013/33/EU), including children and women at risk of trafficking and complex trauma awareness; the use of force by officers in line with national legislation with an emphasis on adopting a non-violent approach; and discouraging the practice of racial profiling and a review of non-discriminatory practice.

v. Dublin amnesty

  • The French state could consider the potential of extending an amnesty for those already in the area, according to which individuals who choose to enter the asylum system would receive a guarantee that they will not be returned to other EU member states under the Dublin Regulation.


[i] These estimates are based on figures provided by the NGO Help Refugees and their partner organisations in November 2019, based on their daily food distributions/ material aid provisions and presence during morning evictions of camps and informal settlements.


[ii] Except if the individual is eligible for family reunification in or relocation to another EU Member State.


[iii] According to information submitted to EASO in 2018 by Safe Passage, an NGO who assist unaccompanied minors in Northern France with accessing the asylum procedure and family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation, and who engage in strategic litigation on behalf of unaccompanied minors in France.




[v] Data provided by the Refugee Youth Service (RYS) as of 10 December 2019.


[vi] See Refugee Rights Europe, ‘Children Stuck in Limbo, Examining the Vulnerability of Unaccompanied Minors in Northern France’, 2019 :


[vii] Lack of access to accommodation for asylum seekers is further attested to by SUD OFII’s recent press release:


[viii] France Terre d’Asile are contracted to orient unaccompanied minors to child protection centres from the pas-de-Calais department, and work every day until 19:00. AFEJI run maraudes in Grande-Synthe to orient adults and minors to state accommodation in the Nord department, but buses to these accommodation centres are only available from 10:00-12:00 on Monday-Friday.


[ix] Oral evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Committee on Channel Migrant Crossings in January 2019.


[x] For example, the eviction of the municipal shelter in Grande-Synthe on 17 September 2019. Médecins du Monde, September 2019:


[xi] Oral Evidence, p. 14


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