Safe and Legal Alternatives

Many people migrate irregularly because they believe this is their only option. However, before you continue a risky irregular journey with no guarantee of success, consider some of the alternatives, like applying for asylum, family reunification and voluntary return.

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 reach. If you are an asylum seeker that passed through another European country before reaching France, you risk being sent back to the first country you arrived in.

It is important to apply for asylum as soon as you arrive in your first European country or as soon as a change in circumstances occurs that would lead to the persecution of you in your home country.

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, 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 will then 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 reflects the principle that those seeking international protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach.

The Dublin Regulation means that asylum seekers are the responsibility of their first country of entry into the EU. If they arrive in one European country and move on to another, they face being sent back to their first country of 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 or where they will be placed within that country.

The countries adhering to the Dublin 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, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Under the Dublin Regulation, different criteria are taken into account for family reunification:

For adults and families
If at least one of your family members is registered in a European country which adheres to the Dublin Regulation, 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. For instance, if you claim asylum in France and tell authorities that you have family members or relatives who are in the UK, the French authorities can ask the UK to consider your asylum claim.

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. The child should provide any evidence of family relationship and contact details.

To be eligible for transfer to the UK, the child must have a parent or guardian, a sibling, an adult aunt or uncle, or grandparent in the UK. In order for an unaccompanied child to join family in the UK, the family member/relative needs to be legally present in the UK, this includes family who are seeking asylum. A relative who has applied for asylum in the UK such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent must be able to show that they can take care of the child.

Some migrants take many physical and financial risks to get to France, only to find out that the reality of life there does not meet their expectations.

If you are in a similar position, and you’d like to return home, 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 program.
  • 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, Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm.

If you need further support or advice, you can reach our team of migration experts.

As well as The Migrant Project, 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, Monday to 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 a migrant helpline at 0808 800 0630, open Monday to Friday, from 9:30 am to 3 pm.
  • 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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