His accommodation overlooks a highway ramp. But from the room of this former F 1 hotel redeveloped by the Forum Refugees association into a reception and examination center (CAES) for asylum seekers, Freddy* barely hears the roar of the engines, lost in his thoughts. Just four days ago, he woke up on a piece of cardboard installed outside near the Gare du Nord in Paris.
After two weeks of wandering in the capital and a year without having seen a bed, the asylum seeker finally sleeps on a “good mattress”, in Septèmes-les-Vallons, a town adjoining the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Marseille (Bouches- du-Rhône). The man, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, did not arrive in the land of cicadas on a whim. It was during his first meeting in mid-August with the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii) at the Cergy counter (Val-d’Oise) that he heard about the possibility of accommodation near the Marseille city.
For two years, the public establishment – under the leadership of the State – has organized transfers to the regions of asylum seekers living in Île-de-France. Immigration being among the most flammable subjects on the political level, the government has remained very discreet on this system, baptized in institutional jargon “directive regional orientation”. To the point that the public is often unaware of its existence, or confuses it with the “sas” (temporary accommodation) set up since last April for homeless people in the Ile-de-France region, who are also sent to reception centers in the provinces on the basis of voluntary work and in which migrants are often involved.
The reorientation of asylum seekers is, however, an integral part of the 2018 law for “controlled immigration, an effective right to asylum and successful integration”. The goal ? Better distribute asylum seekers in France and particularly avoid their concentration around Paris, where the accommodation system is saturated. With, ultimately, the integration into the local fabric of those who have obtained their refugee status, through employment and housing. Like this young asylum seeker who arrived in Poitou-Charentes, who embarked on training to become a caregiver, after having been regularized.
A random choice
In mid-August, Freddy showed up at one of the eight Ile-de-France counters. It was chosen randomly by an algorithm – vulnerable people, such as pregnant women close to term, are excluded from the start. If he had refused the transfer, he would have lost his daily allowance of 6.80 euros paid by Ofii. After accepting, he had five days to leave by train with a prepaid ticket in one of the CAES of the affected region, again determined at random (all regions are concerned, except Hauts-de-France, Corsica and Overseas).
Asylum seekers stay a maximum of thirty days in this structure, before being installed elsewhere in the surrounding area, in a reception center for asylum seekers (Cada) or emergency accommodation for asylum seekers. asylum (Huda), while their case is decided by the administration – sometimes several months. During this interval, they do not have the right to work or leave the region, but are accompanied by social workers who guide them in their efforts and offer them activities from time to time: French lessons, hikes, etc.
At the CAES in Septèmes-les-Vallons, migrants – mostly men, but also some women and children – come and go in the courtyard. The thermometer is close to thirty degrees in the shade. Here, asylum seekers arrive at an average rate of eight per week, for a total of 120 residents. Mbaye*, 21, from Senegal, sighs when he learns that he has to return to Avignon, even though he has only been there for six days. “Why are they bringing us here and then moving us? » he asks in a muffled voice to the head of department, Cécile Coquette. In her office invaded by files, the manager takes the time to explain in broad terms how this complex system works. Mbaye would have preferred to stay in Paris alongside the man he presents as his brother, another young person with whom he is traveling from Morocco. But, an electrician by training, he would above all like to practice his profession. “My dream is to be in France, wherever it is,” he says.
Three kilometers away, in the main artery of this town of 10,000 inhabitants with Provencal houses, the presence of these emigrants housed far from the city center, near the highway, goes rather unnoticed. Except for some, like this customer, encountered in a street café, convinced that “if we welcomed asylum seekers, they would destroy the city!” » without knowing that the CAES opened its doors in 2018.
A new dynamic
The reluctance of residents and local political actors, fueled by highly mobilized far-right groups, constitutes, in fact, one of the major obstacles to the implementation of the relocation system established by the public authorities. In Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (Loire-Atlantique), we remember, the mayor, who had been carrying out a project to relocate a center for several months, saw his house partly burned last May by opponents . He has since resigned. In Callac (Côtes-d’Armor), the councilor also had to abandon an initiative providing for the reception of a few refugee families – migrants who have obtained their asylum application – in order to revitalize this village of barely 400 inhabitants . “The opening of these centers makes it possible to keep schools and public services open and to support local businesses,” observes political scientist Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, a specialist in the migration issue.
In Peyrelevade, a small town of barely 800 inhabitants in the heart of Corrèze, a former disused nursing home has been converted into a Cada, which pays rent to the town. After some turmoil, the establishment “blend into the landscape”, note Stella Dupont and Mathieu Lefèvre, two parliamentarians from the Renaissance group, in a report published in the spring on “the directive orientation of asylum seekers”. Another part of the building has been converted into a party hall, facilitating mixing between the population and new arrivals. A four-hour drive away, the CAES of Frontenay-Rohan-Rohan (Deux-Sèvres), opened in 2021, is gradually gaining acceptance. Local people, most often elderly people, mobilize to provide French lessons to residents and distribute food to them.
The other obstacle to the development of the system relates to the interested parties themselves. Since the start of the operation, nearly 12,000 asylum seekers have refused Ofii’s offer to leave for the region. Bangladeshi, Turkish and Sri Lankan nationals in particular, who benefit from a strong presence of their community in the region and can take advantage of the informal economy to obtain remuneration or accommodation, are not very enthusiastic. Others prefer to continue living in uncomfortable conditions, like this Ivorian couple housed in the kitchen of another Ivorian family with their 5-year-old granddaughter. “We were offered to go to Lyon (Rhône) but we cannot move, I am being followed in hospital,” explains the mother, referring to a knee problem.
There are also those who return to Paris and its surroundings. Moryne de Dona, social worker at the CAES in Poitiers (Vienna), observes this on a daily basis: “Many young people prefer to return to the capital, even if it means losing stable housing, to immediately earn money with a small job illegally and send it to their family back home. » If, for their part, the associations view this distribution policy rather favorably, they nevertheless call for a certain number of adjustments. “Because we have no right to undermine a good idea,” exclaims Pascal Brice, president of the Federation of Solidarity Actors. The latter would like “more informed consent” from asylum seekers drawn at random, greater education to better explain the process, better consideration of particular situations so that daily financial assistance is not systematically withdrawn… And a government “explicitly assuming to pursue a controlled reception policy in the country”.
Soazig Dollet, researcher at Sciences Po, points out an “unfair lottery” system. The transfer of asylum seekers should, in his view, be better thought out based on reception capacities, the employment pool, accessibility of services and the state of mind of the population, all things considered. vary from one territory to another. In his report, MP Mathieu Lefèvre invites prefectures to provide greater support to local elected officials when they welcome a new accommodation structure and to organize consultations with the populations in advance to present the projects to them in a peaceful manner.
This new migratory approach attempted by France, where the long and painful series of the “jungle of Calais” has left its mark, is not a first in Europe. In 2015, Germany was able to distribute the approximately 800,000 Syrians fleeing the civil war between the Länder, based on the model of the “Königstein key”, a system invented in 1949 to better manage research funding. The German federal states define their quotas in consultation with the municipalities, which receive a fixed compensation per refugee.
In France, if we stick to the figures alone, the results are rather positive. Of the 48,230 asylum seekers who were offered regional orientation over the last two years, more than 30,000 accepted the option. In March, the share of those who presented their file in Île-de-France fell from 50% to 36%, underlines the report by Mathieu Lefèvre and his colleague. Ofii would like to further reduce this percentage to 23%. This implies already extending the system, the deadline for which was set at the end of this year. In Avignon, Mbaye awaits the administrative response which will decide his fate. “I’m going to hang on,” he assures. He has already spotted advertisements for which he could apply in the windows of the city’s temp agencies.
* The first name has been changed.
Glossary of immigration terms
Migrant : This term, without legal content, designates a person who has left his place of residence to settle in another State, temporarily or permanently.
Immigrant: Person born in a country other than the one in which he or she resides. She may have the nationality of her country of origin or that of the country where she lives.
An immigrant can be French, for example.
Moved: He is forced to flee his home to settle elsewhere in his country.
Asking for asylum : Person fleeing their country due to persecution (religious, political, etc.)
Refugee: Former asylum seeker whose request was accepted.
Illegal immigrant : People without a residence permit, who arrived legally or illegally, whose visa has expired or whose asylum application has been rejected.
Immigration figures in France
- 131,000 asylum applications were filed in France in 2022.
- 56,000 people obtained refugee status in 2022.
Francis, the pope of migrants
It was a strong symbolic gesture. On July 8, 2013, for his first trip outside Rome, Pope Francis went to the Italian island of Lampedusa against the advice of Vatican diplomacy. He castigates the world’s “indifference” to the fate of migrants. Since then, the Holy Father has continued to encourage the Catholic faithful to commit to becoming “open doors”.
In the eyes of the Bishop of Rome who washed the feet of around ten refugees in 2016, the exile embodies the figure of the poor par excellence. François also likes to point out that he himself is the child of an Italian immigrant and that he almost perished at sea on his way to Argentina. This summer, he deplored a series of deadly shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, calling it an “open wound in our humanity”. The subject will be discussed in particular during the Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille, in which the Pope will participate on September 23 and 24.