Special reception needs of vulnerable groups



Forum Réfugiés - Cosi

The 2015 reform of the law on asylum has introduced a specific procedure for the identification and orientation of asylum seekers with special reception needs. This procedure consists in an interview conducted by OFII officers. These officers shall be specifically trained on identification of vulnerability.1

So far, places in regular reception centres (CADA) are mostly allocated to vulnerable asylum seekers but whose vulnerability is “obvious” (families with young children, pregnant women and elderly asylum seekers). It was expected that the vulnerability assessment inserted in the Law of July 2015 would facilitate identification of vulnerable asylum seekers having less visible specific needs. However, the questionnaire that is used by OFII officers only focuses on “objective” elements of vulnerability.

The French system does not yet foresee any specific ongoing monitoring mechanism to address special reception needs that would arise during the asylum procedure. In practice, however, social workers in reception centres have regular exchanges with the asylum seekers and may be able to identify these special vulnerabilities, should they appear during the reception phase. It is possible for the accommodation centres to notify OFII of the personal situation of an asylum seeker presenting a particular vulnerability and to ask for his or her re-orientation to a more suitable centre. In many occasions, social workers have reported the fact the orientation by OFII did not take into account the vulnerability of some asylum seekers. For example, it has happened that asylum seekers in a wheelchair had been proposed to be accommodated in a centre without any specific access for disabled persons.

The main difficulty for the staff will however be the identification of solutions to respond to this need (see section on Health Care on the limited access to mental health care for instance). Therefore, the obligation on OFPRA and OFII to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons throughout the asylum procedure, including when these vulnerabilities only appear after the vulnerability assessment, should lead to new practice. The vulnerability assessment’s conclusions as well as all information related to asylum seekers are to be computerised. Consequently, it should be easier to approach vulnerability in a more comprehensive way and to facilitate exchange of information. However, this is far from being effective in practice and many legal and practical measures are still lacking to allow this system to be implemented. 

For example, in Marseille in 2016, 813 asylum seekers registered at the PADA have been directed by OFII towards accommodation centres (529 adults and 284 children), whereas 3,945 people were registered. In Lyon, only 26.8% of registered asylum seekers at the PADA have been effectively directed to accommodation centres. These numbers do not take into account the orientations made by OFII right after the vulnerability interview. 

In addition, specific reception conditions for victims of trafficking for instance are not foreseen yet. It is interesting to note that out of the 324 third-country nationals who received a residence permit as a victim of trafficking in human beings in 2008-2012, nearly a quarter (76), had made an initial application for asylum which had been rejected.


Unaccompanied children

The term unaccompanied child has no explicit definition in French law.2 The protection of these young people is therefore based on the notion of children at risk, as outlined in French legal provisions on child protection, which is applicable regardless of nationality or the status of an asylum seeker. Local authorities (Départements / Conseils généraux) are in charge of children at risk so they have to protect unaccompanied children in France. It is therefore difficult to obtain an overview of the situation for unaccompanied children at the national level. The Ministry of Justice has been in charge of the coordination of this issue at national level since 2010, but its role under the 2013 Circular is limited in practice to the distribution of children between local authorities.3

Protection measures are usually initiated by children who turn to NGOs or judges for help. There is no specific procedure in place for identifying unaccompanied children. When they go to the Prefecture in order to lodge an asylum application, the authorities verify only whether a legal guardian is present or not. If not, a legal representative to support and represent the child in asylum procedures (ad hoc administrator) should be appointed (see section on Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children). 

In practice, several social workers have reported in 2016 that Prefectures did not accept to register the asylum claims of unaccompanied children. In many regions, Ile de France, Bretagne, Auvergne- Rhônes-Alpes, Occitanie or Aquitaine, asylum-seeking children are channelled to the common law procedure for unaccompanied minors and they are prevented from registering their asylum claim.

The French authorities have attempted to improve and harmonise the functioning of the reception and assistance provided to unaccompanied children (including asylum-seeking children) through a Circular adopted on 31 May 2013. The Circular is aimed at limiting the disparities between the départements in terms of arrivals of unaccompanied children and at harmonising the practices throughout the country.4 Some funding is provided by the national authorities, thereby acknowledging the involvement of the State in an issue which generally falls under the jurisdiction of the départements.5 State funding covers the emergency reception costs of the children during the first 5 days after arrival while the evaluation the referral is carried out.

If it is established that the young person is a minor within these 5 days, the State prosecutor should contact a national cell of the ministry of Justice dedicated to that which will indicate the département where the child could be placed on the basis of demographic criteria.6 However, in practice, some départements refuse to accept these children and the State prosecutors hardly resort to binding measures even though the circular enables them to do so.7 The National Commission on Human Rights, in an opinion adopted in June 2014,8 regrets that the circular from 31 May 2013 focuses on the management of the geographical distribution of foreign unaccompanied children over the territory without taking sufficiently into account the principle of the best interests of the child.

On the other hand, a report from several national inspection bodies considers that the referral scheme and the geographical distribution provided by this circular constitute progress as they foster harmonisation of practices at national level and solidarity between départements.9 The same report however also highlights many shortfalls and recommends some adjustments and improvements as well as the reinforcement of State funding and involvement.

As of 14 March 2016, this mechanism has been consecrated by law.10 The geographical distribution is done according to criteria defined by a Decree of 28 June 2016:11

  • The part of the local population over 19 years-old ;

  • The number of unaccompanied minors sheltered and supported at the end of the year;

  • The transmission to the Ministry of Justice of the number of unaccompanied minors taken in charge by Childhood Welfare as of 31 December.

If no data is collected and transmitted, it will be considered that no unaccompanied minors have been supported and assisted in the concerned départements. These departements will therefore have to increase the number of minors assisted during the following year.

As a general rule, after identification, unaccompanied children (including those between 16 and 18) are placed in specific children’s shelters that fall under the responsibility of the departmental authorities.12 They also may be accommodated in foster families. The national reception scheme used to include 1 centre especially suited to unaccompanied children asylum seekers, called Caomida (Reception and Orientation Centre for Asylum-seeking Unaccompanied Children), which had national coverage and was managed by the NGO France terre d’asile. However, the Caomida is no longer dedicated to unaccompanied asylum seeking children and can host unaccompanied children in any administrative situation.

There is also a specialised centre at the department level managed by Coallia in Côtes-d’Armor (Samida).13 In some départements, children are hosted in centres with all children in need of social protection, but another service helps them in their specific procedures. As an example, since 2005, Forum réfugiés-Cosi has carried out missions to provide information, legal support and assist in the referral of hundreds of asylum seeking unaccompanied minors arriving in the Rhône département. The OFPRA leaflet targeted to unaccompanied asylum seeking children lists a number of specialised NGOs providing support.14

When children are not accommodated in specialised centres, legal support depends on services provided by NGOs in the geographical area.

In its opinion from June 2014, the CNCDH regrets the lack of investment by French authorities in specialised reception facilities for unaccompanied minors. The Circular and Protocol of 31 May 2013 do not provide anything in terms of reception.

According to a study published by UNHCR and the Council of Europe,15 insufficient and inappropriate reception conditions for unaccompanied asylum seeking children in France affects the effective access of these persons to a fair asylum procedure as it hinders the possibility to prepare and lodge an asylum application. While the overall reception system for asylum seekers is currently being revised, these persons, to date, often have to stay in hotel rooms, as the child specific facilities are overcrowded.16 This situation is aggravated when these children turn 18 since they have to leave their hotel rooms or reception centres. The only way for them to stay in facilities dedicated to children is to have a temporary contract with the département (“Contrat Jeune Majeur”) but it is established upon discretion of the département and most of them do not facilitate the conclusion of such contracts.

After his visit to France in September 2014,17 Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed his concerns that many asylum seekers and unaccompanied migrant minors do not have access to basic reception facilities and find themselves in emergency accommodation centres which are not suited to their situation, if not on the street, like a number of homeless Afghan asylum seekers.

  • 1. Article L.744-6 Ceseda.
  • 2. Foreign unaccompanied children do not constitute any specific category in the Ceseda, except for two articles which mention them in relation to the ad hoc administrator (Articles L.221-5 and L.751-1), or in the CASF.
  • 3. In total, 4,042 youngsters were recognised as unaccompanied foreign minors in order to benefit from special care between 1 June 2013 and 31 May 2014. 23% of them are concentrated in three départements, and 72% are distributed over 25 départements. See General Controllers for Judicial Services, Social Affairs and Administration, Assessment of the scheme for unaccompanied foreign children established under the protocol and the circular of 31 May 2013 (Evaluation du dispositif relatif aux mineurs isolés étrangers mis en place par le protocole et la circulaire du 31 mai 2013), July 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1LWesCw.
  • 4. The Circular of 31 May 2013 does not apply to the département of Mayotte, which has however faced many challenges in terms of protection of unaccompanied children for many years.
  • 5. This puts a heavy financial burden on départements and some of them, as well as members of the Senate, consider that this issue should be handled and financed by the State.
  • 6. The decision of the prosecutor has to be confirmed by the juvenile judge. If the minority is not established by the prosecutor, the child has the possibility to refer directly the juvenile judge who will take a new decision about his or her minority.
  • 7. France terre d’asile, Mineurs isolés étrangers : évaluer et protéger !, 14 October 2013, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1RkAIcZ.
  • 8. CNCDH, Avis sur la situation des mineurs isolés étrangers présents sur le territoire national. Etat des lieux un an après la circulaire du 31 mai 2013 relative aux modalités de prise en charge des jeunes isolés étrangers (dispositif national de mise à l’abri, d’évaluation et d’orientation, 26 June 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1Uhu9XE.
  • 9. General Controllers for Judicial Services, Social Affairs and Administration, Assessment of the scheme for unaccompanied foreign children established under the protocol and the circular of 31 May 2013, July 2014.
  • 10. Law n. 2016-297 relating to childhood protection, 14 March 2016, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2jPyjYW.
  • 11. Decree n. 2016-840 relating to the distribution key of the orientations of unaccompanied minors, 28 June 2016, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2jg4RMO.
  • 12. Information on the various schemes for unaccompanied minors is available at: http://bit.ly/1JP5kiG.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. OFPRA, Guide de l’asile pour les mineurs isolés étrangers en France, 30 April 2014. This list includes: Centre enfants du monde (Cem – Croix-rouge française); COaLLia - Service d’accompagnement des mineurs isolés étrangers (SAMIE) ; Ftda (France terre d’asile) permanence d’accueil et d’orientation des mineurs isolés étrangers ; association infomie ; pôle d’évaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers (pemie –Croix-rouge française).
  • 15. “Unaccompanied and separated asylum-seeking and refugee children turning eighteen: What to celebrate?”, UNHCR/Council of Europe field research on European State practice regarding transition to adulthood of unaccompanied and separated asylum -seeking and refugee children, March 2014, Strasbourg, France.
  • 16. For example, in Strasbourg, at the time of the visit (November 2013), 132 unaccompanied and separated asylum-seeking children were staying in hotels; some of them had been there for over 18 months.
  • 17. Council of Europe, Report by Nils Muiznieks after his visit to France from 22 to 26 September 2014, 17 February 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1Vxrooq.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti