Refugee in Calais - Useful Information


Calais is a medium-sized town of 75 000 inhabitants (100 000 including neighbouring communes). It is the French harbour closest to England, and the main crossing point between Great Britain and the continent. Since the Sangatte centre was closed by the Government in 2002, refugees have continued to arrive. They are scattered all along the French and Belgian coast. They live in squats and “jungles”. The following information is collected by "La Marmite aux Idées" one of the several groups of supporters in Calais.

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Booklet anout Refugees Rights in Calais by La Marmite aux Idées

La Marmite aux Idées is a small calaisian association that was created in autumn of 2009. It is entirely made up of volunteers. It's mainly active with exilees. It seeks to give them tools to prepare the future (french lessons, legal information, and so on), to raise awareness and to call out on political decision-makers to change to the situation.

You have arrived in Calais at some point in your way through Europe. For us who have written this booklet, you are welcome. The European State policies towards the foreigners are tougher and tougher, and it is difficult to find your place there. This booklet aims to help you find your marks in Calais and to inform you on your rights in France.

1.Living in Calais

The State blocks all decent reception of exilees. Associations are the ones who do the minimum, with their feeble means. They have been doing so for years, some for more than 15 years.

1.1. meals :

Three associations are relaying one another to serve free warm meals:

  • Salam (everyday at 6pm)
  • La Belle Étoile (at noon monday-friday) and l'Auberge des Migrants (at noon saturdays and sundays).
  • Meals are served in an equipped area, rue Lamy, near the port, at 1pm and 6pm. Some days, a breakfast is served at 10am.

1.2. clothes :

Every two saturdays, a clothes distribution takes place on rue de Croyx, near Notre-Dame Church. Some days, after the meals, Salam and Auberge des Migrants associations give out some clothes and can help in case of an emergency. No Border can also help.

1.3 washing :

Le Secours catholique manages some showers. They are far from the town center, and Secours Catholique takes people by car and brings them back. The rendez-vous point is generally in front of the food distribution place, on rue Lamy.

1.4. shelter :

The State opposes any long-lasting accomodation of exilees, except when it is forced to by law. A gymnasium is opened at night as part of the gread cold plan (when temperatures are below 0° all day long).
A day centre, managed by Secours Catholique, receives vulnerable people all year during the day, from Monday to Friday, on route de Saint-Omer.
From November to March, Flandres Terre Solidaire association receives people with health issues in Bailleul, near Lille.

1.5. healthcare :

The PASS clinic (Permanence d'Accès aux Soins de Santé, avenue Pierre de Coubertin, after the Citadel,
opposite the highschool.) receives people without health insurance who have a health issue, from Monday to Friday, from 2pm to 6pm. If needed, it will direct people to the appropriate hospital departments.
The hospital's emergency rooms receive everyone who have an urgent health issue.
If you can prove you have been in France for more than three months, you may request State Medical Help, which allows you to see the doctor of your choice and access care as any other socially insured person. But you will have to pay a 30€ tax to benefit from it.
Asylum seekers have a right to Universal Medical Cover (ask the association that accompanies you with your asylum claim).

1.5. administrative procedures :

You may ask the associations for your various administrative procedures, in particular Secours Catholique.

1.6. learning French :

Refugees and asylum seekers may take French lessons at GRETA.
Secours Catholique organizes lessons at its day centre.
La Marmite aux Idées holds lessons in squats. Individuals also offer lessons to asylum seekers.

GRETA - 320 boulevard du 8 Mai
(inside Coubertin High School, behind the Citadelle), French lessons on Tuesdays (for beginners) and Monday and Wednesday mornings (for advanced learners)

1.7.internet, telephone, money :

You may access the internet at the Médiathèque, at a cost of 1€ per hour.
You may buy phone cards for phones booths, and vouchers for cellphones at the tobacco shops and post office. For a subscription or a SIM card, you will have to give some ID.
For international money transfers, you may use Western Union counter at the various post offices in town. You will need to show some proof of identity. To open a bank account, you will need a proof of identity and a proof of residence.

1.8. culture :

You can watch movies in different languages (english, italian, arabic, persian...) at the Alhambra movie threater, near the townhall.
There are also books in different languages at the town library. You may obtain the schedule of entertainments at the tourist office, some of them are free.

2. Your rights

2.1. as regards the police :

in case of police abuse (whether you're a victim or a witness) make a call at 07 87 27 01 86
Do not hesitate to leave a message

• ID controls :
ID controls are authorized:
- on the state prosecutor's order
- during an investigation
- in case of an offense, crime, or public order disturbance.
Appearance-based or skin-color-based controls are forbidden.

• ID checks :
Only if you cannot prove your identity, and lasting up to four hours, tops. Police officers' questions must only concern your identity, they must not ask other questions.

• custody :
Only if you are suspected to have committed a crime, you may be held at the police station for 24h, renewable one time. You have the right to see a lawyer and a doctor. To not have a title to stay is not a crime, you may not be placed in custody for that sole reason.

• violence :
Police officers must respect people and goods, they must be police. They may only use coercition or force in an adapted and proportional way.

If you believe the police didn't obey the law, with you or with other people:
- talk to No Borders and the other associations ;
- write your testimony and send it to the « rights defender. » Défenseur des droits 7 rue Saint-Florentin 74008 Paris.

2.2. liberty deprivation :

•    detention :
If you do not have a title to stay and you may be sent back to your country, the state may lock you up in a detention center (the closest ones are in Coquelles, near Calais, and in Lesquin, near Lille). You will first be placed there for 5 days, then on decision of the judge, you will be kept there for 20 more days, renewable once.
If you wish to question your detention and oppose your deportation, there are time limits to respect, and sometimes you need to be very fast. Thus, you have 48h to seize the administrative tribunal.
In each detention center, an independent association is there to help you defend your rights. In Coquelles, it is France Terre d'Asile, in Lille-Lesquin, it is l'Ordre de Malte. Contact them as soon as possible.

•    prison :
You may only go to jail if you have been condemned by a judge for a crime or offense, or if you are awaiting trial. Even if you have no money, you have a right to a duty sollicitor -- but you may see him only quickly, on the day of your trial. It is very important that you explain clearly to your lawyer and to the judge your version of the truth. If the judge has only the version of the police, you risk a much heavier sentence.

2.3. to stay in France :

•    asylum :
If you are in danger or if you have been persecuted in you country, you may claim asylum.

In order to claim asylum, you need to go to the préfecture. In Calais, you may go to the sous-préfecture, accompanied by an association (generally France Terre d'Asile or Secours Catholique).

  • France Terre d'Asile, 67 rue des quatre coins, 03 21 19 66 09
    • Secours catholique, 1691 route de Saint-Omer, 03 21 19 86 56

The préfecture will first check if France is the european country in charge of your asylum claim (according to Dublin II regulations). In practice, your fingerprints will be taken to check if they do not exist in the Eurodac file. If your fingerprints are found, France will ask the country that took them if it agrees to take charge of your asylum claim. That will generally take 2 to 3 months. If the country accepts or does not respond, you may still be send there. But if France does not send you back in the next 6 months, France will become responsible for your asylum claim.
You may question this deportation procedure to another country, if the procedure is illegal, or if you have been a victim of degrading treatment in that country. For that, ask the association that helped you. France stopped sending asylum seekers back to Greece because of the degrading treatment they suffer in that country.
According to Dublin II regulations, you may also ask to be brought together with members of your close family (parents, children, spouse), asylum seekers or refugees in another european country.
After that first step, if France is in charge of your asylum claim, you will receive a temporary authorization to stay, and you will have three weeks to send OFPRA your asylum claim file (you must abide that timelimit; if elements are missing, you may send them later on). You will then have a title to stay for three months, that will be renewed until the end of the procedure. You will have access to Allocation Temporaire d'Attente. The State is under obligation to offer you accomodation, but it does not always obey the law. If the procedure takes more than a year, you may ask for an authorization to work.
OFPRA will summon you to an interview. The answer is often long to come, 6 months to 1 year. They may grant you refugee status (10 year title to stay) or subsidiary protection (1 year title to stay).
If the OFPRA response is negative (or if you refuse subsidiary protection and wish to obtain refugee status), you must seize the CNDA in the month that follows the OFPRA response (past that delay, you cannot do it anymore). You will keep ATA and your right to accomodation until the CNDA responds.
The CNDA can grant you refugee status or subsidiary protection. If it's response is negative, you can only file an asylum claim on the basis of new elements, which you ignored at the time of your first claim, or that happened afterwards.
If the response is negative, you will receive an Obligation to leave French soil (OQTF) within a month's time. You may challenge it in court -- ask an association for help.
In some cases defined by law, you may be placed in a fast-track procedure. You will only have 15 days to send your asylum claim file. You will not necessarily be summoned to an interview by OFPRA. That procedure is often faster (but not always), but it gives you less guarantees.
If the OFPRA's response is negative, the appeal to CNDA does not suspend a possible deportation, you lose the ATA and the right to accomodation.
If you think a placement in fast-track procedure is unjustified, you may challenge it in court. Get help from the association that accompanies you.

•    if you are underage :
The underage have no need of a title to stay in order to stay in France, and the State is under obligation to protect them if they are in danger. They must be schooled if they are between 6 and 16 years old.
The underage who choose to stay in France are placed in foyers or in foster families, or sometimes in a flat. In Lille, the Nord department created two reception foyers for underage foreigners. There are none in Pas-de-Calais.
No adapted protection is proposed to the underage who wish to go to Britain.
If you wish to benefit from a protection, go talk to an association. France Terre d'Asile in particular is responsible for informing underage minors.

•    other possibilities :
The government progressively diminished the possibilities to obtain a title to stay. But prefectures are under obligation to examine each individual situation. Get in touch with an association to examine your situation and get help with your administrative procedures.

2.4. elsewhere in Europe :

•    the european asylum system :
The European Union gave itself common rules for the reception of asylum seekes. In particular, the Dublin II regulations aims to determine the country that in charge of an asylum claim, and you can only file a claim in one country.
But the reception conditions are very different from one country to another, and some countries do not obey European regulations.

•    Welcome 2 Europe :
You may find on the website information in several languages on the reception conditions in the various countries, asylum, the reception of minors, the different titles to stay, the migration policies, the contact details. You may also ask questions by email at
No Borders also distributes a leaflet on asylum in the UK.

2.5. health:

If you have no title to stay, you may get access to the PASS clinic and to the emergency services of hospitals. If you can prove you have been in France for more than 3 months, you may ask for the State Medical Help -- you will then have to pay a tax of 30€ per year.
If you have a title to stay, you may ask for the CMU, Couverture Maladie Universelle. If you work, you will automatically have a right to health insurance.

2.6. housing :

Emergency housing foyers and the sheltering places in the framework of the great cold plan are under obligation to welcome you, even if you have no title to stay. But they do not always obey the law.
The State is under obligation to house all asylum seekers. But often it does not obey the law. You must then go to court to defend your rights.
If you have a title to stay, you have the same rights as other people legally residing in France. It will be difficult to have your own house as long as you do not have a stable income. Do not hesitate to get help from an association and to regroup to defend your rights.

Solidarity offense : helping foreigners to enter, stay and move illegally is an offence punishable with 5 years of jail and a fine of 30 000 €. Humanitarian aid and information regarding rights are theoretically not included, but the limit remains vague, and the authorities sometimes play on it to pressure the associations and individuals, and use fear to isolate refugees from the rest of the population.
The associations

The great majority of people in those associations are volunteers.

L'Auberge des Migrants:
Noon meals on saturday and sunday, various helps -  Food distribution place - saturday and sunday, 1pm
La Belle Etoile:
Noon meals from monday to friday - Food distribution place - monday to friday, 1pm
Le Vestiaire:
Shoes and clothes distribution - Notre-Dame locker room - every two saturdays
France Terre d'Asile:
Asylum law information, helping asylum seekers, defending rights at the detention center, following up on the underage  France Terre d'Asile, 67 rue des quatre coins, 62100 Calais, 03 21 19 66 09
La Marmite aux Idées:
Promoting rights, teaching French, various activities  -  Food distribution place, 1pm

No Border:
Promoting open borders, freedom of movement and settlement, criticism of migration policies, struggle against police violence  -  Food distribution place

Evening meal from monday to sunday, occasional covers/clothes/shoes distribution, help regarding health - Food distribution place, monday to sunday, 6pm

Secours Catholique:
Day center, showers, helping asylum seekers, various helps    Secours catholique
1691 route de Saint-Omer, 62100 Calais, 03 21 19 86 56

Calais : short presentation and history of the refugees' presence

Calais has had a long history with refugees, now for 20 years.

At the start of the 1990s, just after the fall of communist regimes of Eastern Europe, the refugees coming from these countries have started to come to Calais and to find themselves blocked by the border. From the middle of the 1990s, they are mostly people fleeing the war in the former Yougoslavia, many of them families with children. The population mobilized, and the associations pressured the State and were able to obtain that places would be opened to shelter refugees.

In 1999, a reception center was organized in a great warehouse in Sangatte. It was managed by the Red Cross. It welcomed several thousands of people in three years.

In 2002, the government changes and shuts down the Sangatte center. Since then, the State stops any long-lasting settlement and any reception of refugees in decent conditions. The shelters are regularly destroyed, and the squats are evicted. The countries of origin of refugees change with time, Kurds, East Africans, Afghans, Iranians, Arabs of different nationalities, Vietnamiese, Albanians...

In 2009, a great increase in the number of refugees in Calais draws the attention of the media. The government directs the spectacular destruction of the mains camps and squats. But that resolves nothing and refugees are still there. Several collective deportations, most notably to Afghanistan, were attempted, but were stopped in court.

Since 2009, more and more people claim asylum in Calais. But the reception of asylum seekers is worsening everywhere in France, and they must often go to court for their fundamental rights to be recognized, the right to decent housing being the first of them.

Links about Calais


Calais migrant solidarity Documenting police harassment of migrants in Calais, and the strengthening resistance to this violence by a network of European citizens and refugees:


SALAM Nord/Pas-de-Calais: organisation to support refugees in Calais by daily food distribution and various kinds of help:

Schengendangle: Blog of refugees in transit. Dangle we call it when we hide underneath a lorry, between the tires – we the unseen of Europe:

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