Safe and Legal Alternatives

Many people migrate irregularly because they believe this is their only option. However, migrants can consider some safe and legal alternatives, such as applying for asylum, family reunification and voluntary return, depending on whether their country of origin is deemed safe to return to and they are not at risk of persecution.

If you are fleeing from direct persecution in your home country, you are entitled to international protection. To increase your chances of being granted asylum, you should follow the asylum procedures set out by regional and national laws in Europe. 

One of the EU laws that affects migrants in France is the Dublin Regulation. This law means that asylum seekers are the responsibility of the first European country they are documented in. If you are an asylum seeker that passed through other European countries and registered, you risk being sent back to that country. 

All countries that are part of the Dublin Regulation utilise a system called Eurodac, a pan-European fingerprint database of asylum seekers and third country nationals who have entered the EU by irregular means and are at least 14 years of age. When you submit an asylum application, caseworkers will run your information through the Eurodac system to determine if you have been registered or if you have applied for asylum in another country. If yes, you may be returned to that country. If not, you may be further assessed depending on the country’s protocol before the application is accepted for consideration. 

During the asylum procedure in both France and the UK, you will be able to seek a legal representative and an interpreter if necessary. Although you usually will not be able to work during the processing of your asylum application, you might be eligible for some financial and practical support for accommodation and education services. 

If you are granted asylum by a European country, you will be able to live and work there for a fixed period of time, after which you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence. 

The main steps for applying for asylum in France are as follows:

  • First, you pre-register your application at a SPADA (a first reception centre). If you’re in Île-de-France, you’ll have to call 01 42 500 900 from Monday to Friday, between 10 am and 3.30 pm, to make an appointment first. 
  • You will then be called to a meeting at a GUDA (a prefecture service window) to officially register your asylum application. 
  • After that meeting, you’ll see an adviser from OFII (the French Office for Immigration and Integration) to discuss the support available to you during the asylum procedure.
  • From the date of the meeting in the GUDA, you will have 21 days to file your application at the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (OFPRA).

You can find the addresses of all SPADAs in France here


The main steps for applying for asylum in the UK are as follows:

  • You ask for a screening meeting with an immigration officer at the UK border upon arrival. Or, if your circumstances change while you’re in the UK and you become eligible for asylum, you make an appointment at an asylum screening unit by calling 020 8196 4524 during working hours (Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 4:45 pm, Friday, 9 am to 4:30 pm). 
  • You register your claim at your screening. 
  • Afterwards, your case will be given to a caseworker and you will receive an asylum registration card (ARC). 
  • You might also receive a ‘preliminary information questionnaire’ which you will have to fill in and return by the deadline.
  • You will then have an asylum interview with a caseworker who will explain the process to you and who will eventually make a decision on your case.

An EU law called the Dublin Regulation sets down rules about which country is responsible for examining an individual’s asylum claim. It states that asylum seekers are the responsibility of their first country of documented entry into the EU.

The Dublin Regulation also means that asylum seekers are not given the choice of which country examines their asylum claim, in which country they will live and where they will be placed within that country. 

The countries adhering to the Dublin III regulation are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The United Kingdom is no longer adhering to the Dublin Regulation. Learn more in the section ‘Applying for Asylum in the UK’ above.

Under a new, proposed “European Union Pact on Migration and Asylum”, the Dublin system will be reformed to ensure EU member states share the responsibility of asylum seekers and alleviate the pressure on over-stretched countries such as Greece. This means that EU countries will be given a choice between taking asylum seekers in or helping to return rejected asylum seekers to their country of origin.

As the United Kingdom is no longer bound by the Dublin Regulation (learn more in the section ‘The Dublin Regulation’ above), it may become more difficult to join family members already living in the UK.

For adults and families:

If at least one of your family members is registered in an EU member state in which the Dublin Regulation applies , you may ask for your asylum claim to be examined in the same country. If the family reunification is approved, you can join them there and continue with your asylum claim. As of 1 January 2021 the UK will only grant such reunions if the person already living in the UK has refugee- or subsidiary protection status.

If your family member (spouse or minor child) is an asylum seeker who is awaiting a first decision on his or her claim, or has refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK, the UK is responsible for examining your asylum claim if the family link can be shown.

The UK may also accept responsibility on an exceptional basis to bring together family members on humanitarian grounds.

For unaccompanied children:

The family reunion provision only applies once an unaccompanied child has claimed asylum in the EU country where they are. It is vital that children in France claim asylum there to access the support they need.

When an unaccompanied child claims asylum in France, they should tell authorities if they have any family members in the UK (or elsewhere in Europe). French authorities can request for that country to take responsibility for assessing their asylum claim. They should provide any evidence of family relationship and contact details.

To be eligible for transfer to the UK, the child can reunite with parents who are regularly (legally) present in the UK (this includes if they are seeking asylum). 

Some migrants take many physical and financial risks to reach France or the UK, only to find out that the reality of life there does not meet their expectations. If you are a similar position, and you’d like to return home, and it is deemed safe to do so, you may be eligible for:

  • financial and logistical support to return home – for example, your plane ticket could be paid for and you could receive administrative support to get the right travel documentation;
  • reintegration assistance to help you once you’ve returned home – for example, you could receive a grant to help you with accommodation or training to help you find a job. 

If you are in France:

  • Organise a meeting with an adviser at an OFII (French Office for Immigration and Integration) to find out more about their voluntary returns programme. 
  • You can find the addresses of all OFIIs here.

If you are in the United Kingdom:

  • You can apply online here for voluntary returns support.
  • If you prefer, you can contact the voluntary returns service on 0300 004 0202 between Monday and Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

There are many other organisations that want to help you understand your options. 

In France:

  • Migrants can seek free legal advice from the Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigré.e.s (GISTI) by calling 01 43 14 60 66 between Monday and Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm and from 10 am to 12 midday on Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • If you are a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Coordination for Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking hotline on 0 825 009 907.

In the UK:

  • Irregular migrants can organise a confidential meeting with an immigration specialist at their local Citizens Advice office to discuss their options. Find the nearest office here.
  • The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants operates a free and confidential helpline on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 am and 1 pm at 020 7553 7470.
  • The UK government also has an asylum helpline at 0808 801 0503 between Monday and Friday from 8:00am to 8:00pm.
  • If you are a victim of human trafficking, you can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 at any time of the day or night.
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