Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 18/03/21


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The law foresees 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 (see Identification).[1]

However, the Ceseda does not refer to vulnerability on account of sexual orientation of gender identity, therefore this is not taken into account by OFII either. In practice, LGBTI persons face important difficulties when OFII does not provide them with housing, as most of the time they cannot find support in their national communities.

So far, places in CADA are mostly allocated to vulnerable asylum seekers but whose vulnerability is “obvious” and visible (e.g. families with young children, pregnant women and elderly asylum seekers). The questionnaire that is used by OFII officers as part of the vulnerability assessment only focuses on “objective” elements of vulnerability, thereby hindering the identification of less visible needs.

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 that the orientation carried out 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 is however the identification of solutions to respond to certain needs (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 such as trainings and provisions of tools to social workers are still lacking to allow this system to be implemented.

For the year 2019, the Ministry of Interior had requested Prefectures to develop places for asylum seekers with disabilities, but there is no further information about whether this was implemented in practice. It had further announced the opening of places dedicated to women victims of violence or trafficking.[2] About 300 places dedicated to these vulnerable women have been created in 2019, and were operating as of 2020). They are located in 5 regions – namely Auvergne Rhône Alpes, Ile-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie. Moreover, 200 places dedicated to LGBTI asylum seekers were opened in 2020.

As mentioned above, a governmental plan on vulnerability, including specific actions for asylum seekers, will be published in early 2021 to increase the identification of vulnerable groups and better address their needs.

Reception of unaccompanied children

Care system (“prise en charge”) for unaccompanied children regardless of status

The term unaccompanied child has no explicit definition in French law.[3] The protection of young persons 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 national level. The Ministry of Justice has been in charge of the coordination of this issue at national level since 2010, but its role is limited in practice to the distribution of children between local authorities.

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 Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children).

In practice, several workers regularly report that some Prefectures still do not accept to register the asylum claims of unaccompanied children. Asylum-seeking children are sometimes channelled to the common law procedure for unaccompanied minors and they are prevented from registering their asylum claim.

The distribution mechanism is set out in law.[4] The geographical distribution is done according to criteria defined by way of decree:[5]

  • The population of the department, compared to the national population;
  • 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 are collected and transmitted, it will be considered that no unaccompanied minors have been supported and assisted in the concerned départements. These départements will therefore have to increase the number of minors assisted during the following year.

In a report sent to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in July 2020, the French Public Defender of Rights pointed out several shortcomings in the childcare system concerning migrant children with families and unaccompanied children.[6] This includes using former hotels to accommodate children, in substandard living conditions and with limited prospects of integration. It further highlights that the lack of adequate services and the long distance between hotels and these services is likely to lead to children dropping out of school.

Specific centres for unaccompanied children

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.[7] These are managed by the conseils départementaux. They also may be accommodated in foster families. Due to the lack of places, children are often accommodated in hotels in practice.

However, none of these centres are designed for asylum-seeking children specifically. 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 Lyon. The OFPRA leaflet targeted to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children lists a number of specialised NGOs providing support.[8]

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

In June 2017, the Senate published a report on the social care of unaccompanied children, where it noted shortcomings in the reception system, such as housing in hotels, and encouraged community-based accommodation.[9] Through an opinion of 25 September 2017, the Ombudsman requested the creation of a centre in Calais where unaccompanied children could rest, receive care and obtain clear information on their rights.[10]

Moreover, on 28 February 2019, the ECtHR ruled in case Khan v. France that the failure of the French authorities to provide care for an unaccompanied minor in the Calais refugee camp was in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.[11] In September 2020, French Ombudsman sent a communication to the Committee of Ministers concerning this case, highlighting several difficulties in accessing protection for unaccompanied minors in France.[12] [13]



[1]  Article L.744-6 Ceseda.

[2] Ministry of Interior, Circular NOR: INTV1900071J, 31 December 2018, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2Syc2E8, 7.

[3] 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.

[4] Law n. 2016-297 relating to childhood protection, 14 March 2016, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2jPyjYW.

[5] Code de l’action sociale et des familles, article R.221-13

[6] French Public Defender of Rights, ‘Rapport au Comité des droits de l’enfant’, 10 July 2020, available in French at : https://bit.ly/2OkAMPG.

[7]Information on the various schemes for unaccompanied children is available at: http://bit.ly/1JP5kiG.

[8] OFPRA, Guide de l’asile pour les mineurs isolés étrangers en France, December 2019. This list includes: Centre enfants du monde (CEM – Croix Rouge française); Coallia; France terre d’asile; InfoMIE; pôle d’évaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers (PEMIE – Croix Rouge française).

[9] Senate, Rapport sur la prise en charge sociale des mineurs non accompagnés, n. 598, 28 June 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2DcgMZg.

[10] Ombudsman, Opinion n. 17-09, 25 September 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2rcqvt2.

[11] ECtHR, Khan v. France, Application no. 12267/16, 28 February 2019.

[12] Comitee of Ministers, ‘Communication from an NHRI (Défenseur des droits de la République Française) (27/07/2020) concerning the case of Khan v. France (Application No. 12267/16), available in French at: https://bit.ly/2OsmAV0.

[13] Comitee of Ministers, ‘1390th meeting, 1-3 December 2020 (DH) – H46-9 Khan v. France (Application No. 12267/16) – Supervision of the execution of the European Court’s judgments’, available at: https://bit.ly/2Z7SDM8.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation