Land and air borders
Persons refused entry into the territory after arriving at the border have the possibility to ask for a “full day” (jour franc) that allows them to be protected from removal for 24 hours. In the case of adults, this right must be requested, whereas under the law unaccompanied children cannot be removed before the expiry of the jour franc unless they specifically waive it. The jour franc does not apply to refusals of entry issued at land borders or in Mayotte since September 2018, in accordance with the modifications adopted through the 2018 reform.
As regards external borders, Eurostat statistics seems inconsistent as it indicates that a total of only 9,180 third country nationals were refused entry at the external borders in 2022. In 2021, the Ministry of Interior communicated the following data on refusals of entry at the external border: 94,692 decisions were notified during 2021, mainly at the French-Italian border. In the first 10 months of 2022, 72,581 such decisions were issued at the border with Italy (40,274), Spain (16,988), Belgium (10,761) and Switzerland (4,558).
In December 2019, several NGOs requested a parliamentary commission with the aim to investigate violations of the law at the border. The issues reported by these NGOs include violent practices, pushbacks, the absence of medical and social care as well as a lack of support to vulnerable applicants including unaccompanied minors. The setting up of a parliamentary commission had already been requested by several French Deputies in November 2019. A parliamentary commission on migration – not limited to border issues – was launched in April 2021 and published a report in November 2021. This report recalls that ‘the violations of rights at our borders have been abundantly documented and denounced’ and ‘it’s time to put an end to it’.
Since 2015, the French police has intensified border controls which aim to prevent asylum seekers from accessing France. Despite the fact that the reintroduction of border control at the internal borders must be applied as a last resort measure, in exceptional situations, and must respect the principle of proportionality, France has regularly re-introduced border controls at its internal borders in recent years, since 2015. The current temporary border control is valid from 1 November 2022 to 30 April 2023 and justified by ‘new terrorist threats, organised criminality and activity of organised groups of smugglers, risk of arrival of persons who could pose a threat among the flow of refugees, irregular migration, secondary movements, the situation at the external border (Ukraine war)’ Moreover, the Council of State validated in October 2019 a temporary border control decision that had been taken in 2018. The Council of State considered that this measure, which is based on ‘“current events and the high level of the terrorist threat prevailing in France’”, leads to a limitation of the freedom of movement that is proportionate to the aim pursued. The decision reintroducing border controls was challenged by NGOs again in 2022, following the CJUE decision on this issue (26 April 2022, C-368/20 and C-369/20). However, the Council of State validated the measure in July 2022, considering that the threat was renewed (despite the CJUE requiring a new threat). In a decision issued in November 2020, the Council of State indicated that European law does not allow issuing a refusal of entry to a foreigner arrested while crossing an internal border or close to it, nor does it automatically deprive an asylum seeker from reception conditions i.e. accommodation. The rules from Return directive must apply. However, in a decision issued in April 2021, the Council of State made a distinction between people arrested after crossing the border, who must be subject to the Return Directive (case law of November 2020), and those who are arrested before crossing the border for whom the refusal of entry is considered compatible with European law. It should be further noted that France has signed around 40 cooperation agreements with other countries, including readmission agreements with European countries such as Kosovo, Serbia, Switzerland, Italy, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia. These agreements should not impact the right to ask for asylum but are often interpreted in practice as taking precedence over all other considerations, especially at the Italian land border.
According to the UK authorities, attempts to cross the Channel to join the United Kingdom reached a record number of 45,756 in 2022 compared to 28,395 persons in 2021 (three times more than the number reported in 2020). According to French authorities, 51,786 persons were detected trying to cross the Channel in 2022 (compared to 35,382 in 2021). Similarly, the number of migrants rescued at sea reached 8,323 persons, compared to 8,609 in 2021 and 2,036 in 2020. In 2022, at least 31 persons died at sea trying to join the United Kingdom (27 persons in 2021) Analysis shows that majority of people in small boats crossing Channel are refugees.
In November 2022, a new agreement was signed between the UK and France related to Channel crossings following many others bilateral agreements signed since 2014. Moreover, on 27 April 2022 the Nationality and Border Bill became an Act of law in the UK. As mentioned by the British NGO Refugee Council, the provisions of the Act relating to refugees and the asylum system focus heavily on penalising refugees who travel to the UK through ‘irregular’ means. In addition, the UK government is pursuing its idea of implementing an agreement with Rwanda to externalise asylum process of people arriving illegally in UK.
Access at the Italian land border
Reports of people being refused entry without their protection needs being taken into account at the Italian border persisted in 2022. In July 2020, the Council of State highlighted to the French Government its legal obligations regarding asylum at the border. The Council of State concluded that by refusing entry onto the territory the authorities had manifestly infringed the right to asylum of the applicants. In a joint statement, six NGOs welcomed the ruling, condemning the fact that these illegal practices are systematically being carried out by the police. The NGOs also urged the Ministry of the Interior to issue public instructions to the border police so that people wishing to seek international protection in France can do so at the French-Italian border as well.
A network of researchers focusing on the Italian land border was also established in 2018 to raise awareness on the issue and to establish a dialogue with civil society. Illegal police operations at the border have been extended from the Menton and Nice areas to the Hautes-Alpes since 2016. Such practices of mass arrest have had an effect on shifting migratory routes, leading migrants to take increasingly dangerous routes through the mountains. By way of illustration, the Italian organisation Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU) denounced at the beginning of 2021 the critical situation of migrants who attempt to reach France from Italy through the Alpine border, highlighting inter alia that snow and freezing winter temperatures make the journey through the mountains particularly dangerous.
Figures on the number of apprehended persons and refusals of entry at the Italian border are not fully available for 2022 at the time of writing of this report. In the first 10 months of 2022, 40,274 refusals of entry were issued at the French-Italian border, compared to 25,998 in the same period in 2021 (36,000 over the whole year 2021). In January 2023, local authorities declared that almost 40,000 arrests had taken place at the border in 2022 with 33,000 returns to Italy and 4,909 unaccompanied minors coming fron Italy accommodated in emergency shelters in France. Following the refusal of Italy to welcome the ship Ocean Viking in November 2022, border controls were reinforced, with over 500 policemen in the region of Mention (Alpes Maritimes).
Racial profiling by the Border Police and other police forces deployed in the region of Hautes-Alpes has been reported, whereby passengers who appear to be of African origin are checked on board trains arriving from Italy. Moreover, persons who explicitly express the intention to seek asylum have been refused entry by the French authorities on the basis that Italy is responsible for their claim, without being placed under the formal procedure foreseen by the Dublin Regulation.
Border controls have also led to new forms of Detention, including de facto detention in areas such as the police station of Menton, which cannot be accessed by civil society organisations. This has been upheld by the Council of State as lawful during the period necessary for the examination of the situation of persons crossing the border, subject to judicial control. In October 2019, a French Member of European Parliament was refused access to the police station in Menton as it is not considered formally as a place of detention. In a report on detention conditions in the context of immigration in France, published in March 2020, the European committee for the prevention of torture (CPT) reported that the material conditions in the premises in Menton were extremely poor and could jeopardise the right to human dignity of the people placed there. The Committee expressed serious doubts on whether people who are refused entry to the territory are able to know, understand and exercise their rights. On 10 December 2020, the administrative court of Marseille suspended the decision of the Prefect prohibiting NGO access to the place where migrants are detained at the border in Hautes-Alpes. A similar decision was issued by the administrative court of Nice on 30 November 2020 regarding access to the police station in Menton. In 2021, the prefects of Alpes-Maritime and Hautes-Alpes again issued new decisions denying the access to NGO’s, but the administrative courts of Nice (4 March 2021) and Marseille (16 March 2021), and then the Council of State (23 April 2021), confirmed the illegality of these decisions. However, the Council of State refused the main request, which was the closure of these places of detention. In a similar decision published in September 2022, the administrative court of Grenoble ordered the administration to authorise access to the detention center in the Fréjus tunnel but did not order the closure of this place. The administration complied with the decision. In a report published in September 2022, the NGO Anafe described the main places of detention at French-Italian border (Menton Garavan, Menton Pont Saint Louis, Montgenèvre, Frejus) and confirmed that many violations of fundamantal rights have been observed there.
Media reports documented incidents of unaccompanied children being refused entry by police authorities and directed back towards the Italian border. The Italian Minister of Interior also accused France of such practices back in October 2018. In 2020, French Administrative courts regularly condemned the Prefecture for its illegal practices at the border violating the rights of the children. Several NGOs further published a report in October 2020 on the illegal practices of the French authorities in this regard, which seem to be applied at several borders. In a report published in May 2021, Human Rights Watch stated that ‘French police summarily expel dozens of unaccompanied children to Italy each month in violation of French and international law’.
Despite strong condemnation by monitoring bodies, civil society organisations, as well as court rulings condemning Prefectures for failing to register the asylum applications of people entering through Italy, practice and official stances remain unchanged. In the report quoted above, ANAFE continued to note in 2022 an ‘unashamed violation of the right of asylum’.
A preliminary inquiry into unlawful police practices in Menton was launched in February 2019, but was still pending at the beginning of 2022. In July 2019, several NGOs sent documented requests to the Prosecutor in Nice and to the Special rapporteur on the human rights of the migrants in order to cease violations of fundamental rights at the French-Italian border.
Local habitants support asylum seekers at the border inter alia by rescuing them on the mountain, but the increased restrictions on access to the territory have been coupled with criminalisation of humanitarian assistance. Several persons helping migrants have been prosecuted and ultimately convicted by French courts. Although Cedric Herroux’s sentence was deemed unconstitutional for violating the fraternity principle and quashed, convictions continue to be delivered in other cases. On 26 February 2020, the Court of Cassation further held that the protection of acts of solidarity is not limited to individual and personal actions but also extends to a militant action carried out within an association. Consequently, another conviction of Cedric Herroux was quashed by the Court of appeal of Lyon in May 2020. As reported by a Member of the European Parliament, Damien Carême, actions of volunteers trying to help migrants at the border were still being hindered by the police in the beginning of 2021.
Access at the Spanish land border
Due to the increasing number of migrants arriving in Spain, the French-Spanish land border has become one of the main entry points to France since 2018. Spanish media have reported that migrants are pushed back from France to Spain without appropriate guarantees, in procedures lasting less than 20 minutes. Reports have shown Border Police officials controlling groups of migrants in Hendaye, placing them on board a van and leaving them at the border instead of handing them over to their Spanish counterparts. In February 2021, the border police illegally returned a 16-years old unaccompanied child from Bayonne (France) to Irun (Spain). The NGOs which reported the incident indicated that these illegal practices are recurrent and recalled that the authorities must consider the best interest of the child, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Civil society organisations have denounced what appears to be a practice mirroring the methods of the Border Police on the Italian border. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) alerted in February 2019 that “[p]eople are denied the opportunity to apply for asylum in France, and minors are not considered as such; they are routinely turned away and sent back to Spain, instead of being protected by the French authorities as the law requires.” Local authorities in Bayonne have also criticised current practice vis-à-vis migrants arriving from Spain. According to the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of the UE, intensified police checks implemented since the beginning of 2021, with the deployment of 1,200 to 1,600 police officers each week, led migrants to take more risks. For instance, a migrant died in June 2022 when trying to enter France by crossing the Bidasoa River which marks the French–Spanish border, the press reported.
In the first 8 months of 2021, 31,213 refusal of entry were notified at the Spanish land border, up 146% compared to the same period the previous year. In the first 10 months of 2022, 16,988 such decisions have been issued at the border with Spain (16,988).
Access at borders in overseas territories
In Mayotte, thousands of people arrive each year from Comoros and sometimes from African or Asian countries, especially Sri Lanka. In 2022, 8,003 migrants (6,355 in 2021, 3,989 in 2020) were arrested at sea trying to reach Mayotte illegally according to the authorities. In French Guyana, 2,500 refusals of entry were reported in the first semester of 2020. No data is available for 2021 and 2022 in Guyana and the Reunion Island.
Access at airports
ANAFE (the National Association of Border Assistance to Foreigners – Association nationale d’assistance aux frontières pour les étrangers) is an organisation that provides assistance to foreigners in airports. In its Annual report published in September 2020, the organisation highlighted several difficulties in accessing the right of asylum at airports. According to the latter, there is a general lack of information on the right to seek asylum and difficulties occur in the registration of asylum claims at the border. It further highlights the important role of the Police in practice and the obstacles it may create regarding the asylum application. The same difficulties have been reported by ANAFE in a report published in January 2022 and in an open-letter in October 2022. Similar issues are further described below under the Border procedure (border and transit zones).
Legal access to the territory
For information regarding family reunification as a way to access the territory, see Family Reunification.
Refugees can legally access the territory through resettlement programmes. France had undertaken to resettle 5,000 people per year in 2020 and 2021, from sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East, thereby adding to the initial resettlement commitment of around 100 households per year under a framework agreement concluded with UNHCR in 2008. However, only 1,211 persons were resettled in 2020 and 1,827 in 2021. France further committed to resettle 5,000 people in 2022 within the framework of European commitments. To this are added a hundred families resettled each year under an agreement with the UNHCR signed in 2008. According to the UNHCR, a total of 3,136 persons have been resettled in 2022 in France.
Regarding pledges for resettlement and humanitarian admission of Afghans in the EU ‘Afghan support scheme’, France committed to admitting 2,500 from mid-August 2021 to the end of 2022. During this period, 3,134 Afghans were admitted in France: 2,635 during Summer 2021, 526 from September 2021 to December 2021 and 1,095 in 2022.
France also contributes to relocations from Greece to other European countries through a voluntary relocation scheme. From August 2020 to March 2023, 501 unaccompanied minors and 510 members of families (417 asylum seekers and 93 beneficiaries of international protection) were relocated from Greece in this context.
In the framework of the Declaration on a voluntary solidarity mechanism endorsed by 19 EU countries and 4 Schengen associated countries in June 2022, France is committed to relocating 3,000 persons but at the end of 2022 only 127 people (out of only 207 for all European countries) had been relocated.
As mentioned on OFPRA website, a foreign national can apply for an asylum visa at a French representation in their country of origin. In practice, this possibility (considered as a favour and not as a right) is only available in a few embassies, following specific commitments by France. A report on immigration sent by the Ministry of the Interior to the French Parliament in 2022, covering 2020 data, mentions the implementation in recent years of visa programmes for Syrians, Iraqis, and Yazidi women.
Public data on this type of visa does not allow for a clear understanding of this issue, as the “humanitarian visa” category includes all these different legal pathways to the territory (including probably family reunification) and probably other unknown practices:
|Total Humanitarian visas||12,333||12,246||4,573||14,035||15,806|
|Refugees and stateless persons||11,931||10,874||4,402||13,807||13,763|
Following the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021, France evacuated 3,134 Afghans who entered the asylum system and obtained protection (2,635 in August and September 2021, and 499 until the end of 2022).
 Article L. 333-2 Ceseda.
 Article L. 361-4 Ceseda. Note that in response to a report by the General Controller of Places of Detention (CGLPL), the Ministry of Interior stated in June 2018 that the jour franc does not apply in the context of reintroduction of Schengen border controls: Ministry of Interior, Response to the CGLPL, 18-019754-A/BDC-CARAC/JT, 7 June 2018, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2SEfU7k, 5.
 Annual meeting between the ministry of Interior and NGOs on the management of waiting zones, November 2022 – reported by La Cimade and ANAFE. Map of refusal of entries in 2021 provided by La Cimade, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3Ea43DG.
 Amnesty International France, La Cimade, Médecins du Monde, Médecins sans Frontières, Secours Catholique-Caritas France, Anafé, MRAP, Syndicat des avocats de France, ‘Nous demandons une commission d’enquête parlementaire pour le respect des droits des personnes exilées à nos frontières’, 3 December 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2FS8Vix.
 Assemblée nationale, ‘Proposition de résolution nº 2394 tendant à la création d’une commission d’enquête sur la violation des droits humains aux frontières françaises’, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3cj0fD4.
 Assemblée nationale, Rapport de la commission d’enquête sur les migrations, les déplacements de populations et les conditions de vie et d’accès au droit des migrants, réfugiés et apatrides en regard des engagements nationaux, européens et internationaux de la France, 10 November 2021, available in French at: https://bit.ly/34aftsC.
 European Commission, ‘Member States’ notifications of the temporary reintroduction of border control at internal borders pursuant to Article 25 et seq. of the Schengen Borders Code’, available at: https://bit.ly/3pnjCid.
 Practice-informed observation by Forum-Réfugiés, including feedback from other NGOs, January 2023.
 InfoMigrants, ‘Critical situation for migrants at Italian-French border’, 9 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3aMpBHa; See also: ECRE, ‘France: Evictions Continue amid Winter Emergency while Council of State Allows Preventing Media Access’, 12 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3jRTbip.
 Ministry of Interior, Débat au Parlement sur l’immigration en France, Press kit, 6 December 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3IpLQmW.
 20Minutes, ‘Alpes-Maritimes : A la frontière italienne, le nombre d’interpellations de migrants augmente, ainsi que « les atteintes aux droits fondamentaux »’, 8 December 2021, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3Ev5ME6.
 Council of Europe, CPT, Rapport au Gouvernement de la République française relatif à la visite effectuée en France par le Comité européen pour la prévention de la torture et des peines ou traitements inhumains ou dégradants (CPT) du 23 au 30 novembre 2018, 24 March 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/39rfnJw.
 Anafe, ‘Refus d’assistance médicale et juridique aux personnes exilées enfermées à la frontière franco-italienne : le tribunal administratif de Nice sanctionne l’Etat’, 1 December 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3GCxLj6.
 Republica, ‘“Migranti prigionieri per ore”, nuovo caso al confine francese’, 17 July 2019, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/2Urx8Vh; News Deeply, ‘Dodging death along the Alpine passage’, 25 January 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2H99SDP; France Culture, ‘Quand les mineurs africains sont abandonnés dans la montagne’, 17 November 2017,available in French at: https://bit.ly/3bar89f.
 See e.g. Administrative Court of Nice, Orders No. 2000856, 2000858, 24 February 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3A2fgUB; Administrative Court of Nice, Orders No. 2000570, 2000571 2000572, 7 February 2020.
 Amnesty International and others, Les manquements des autorités françaises aux devoirs élémentaires de respecter, protéger et mettre en œuvre les droits des mineur.e.s isolé.e.s étranger.e.s en danger aux frontières intérieures terrestres de la France (frontières franco-italienne, franco-espagnole et franco-britannique), October 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3acF5Um.
 CGLPL, Rapport de visite des locaux de la police aux frontières de Menton (Alpes-Maritimes) – Contrôle des personnes migrantes à la frontière franco-italienne, June 2018, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2JjUpzY; National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH), Avis sur la situation des migrants à la frontière franco-italienne, 18 June 2018, available in French at: https://bit.ly/41tSsZv.
 See e.g. Anafé, Persona non grata : Conséquences des politiques sécuritaires et migratoires à la frontière franco-italienne, January 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2E2EJQ6; ECRE, Access to asylum and detention at France’s borders, June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2JaRrSu; La Cimade, Dedans, dehors: Une Europe qui s’enferme, June 2018, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2MrISQj; Forum réfugiés-Cosi, ‘Pour une pleine application du droit d’asile à la frontière franco-italienne’, 24 April 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/3A1nkEU.
 See e.g. Council of State, Decision No. 440756, 8 July 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/43s4Dbb; 20 Minutes, ‘Nice : La préfecture à nouveau épinglée pour des violations du droit d’asile à la frontière franco-italienne’, 3 March 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/39p6CTI; Administrative Court of Marseille, Order No. 1901068, 18 March 2019; Administrative Court of Nice, Order No. 1701211, 31 March 2017; Order No. 1800195, 22 January 2018; Order No. 1801843, 2 May 2018.
 See e.g. La Croix, ‘Le délit de solidarité est toujours sanctionné’, 15 January 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/35UplBq ; Anafé et al, ‘Les 7 de Briançon lourdement condamné·e·s par le tribunal de Gap’, 13 December 2018, available in French at: http://bit.ly/3mzOTCd.
 MSF, ‘Migrants trapped in relentless cycle of rejection on French-Spanish border’, 6 February 2019, available at: http://bit.ly/3L0ZVdh. See also Accem et al., ‘Augmentation des arrivées en Espagne : l’Europe doit sortir la réforme de Dublin de sa paralysie’, 4 December 2018, available in French at: http://bit.ly/3UFwcKa.