Detention in France

last update: October 2012

As a foreigner, you must be able to present an identity document, and depending on your nationality a document proving the legality of your stay. If you do not have identity documents, police can detain you for four hours for identity verification. But the simple fact of being illegally is not a crime punishable by a prison sentence, and you can not be detained in custody just because you do not have papers.

In custody, you have the right to ask to be helped by a lawyer. If you have no personal lawyer, you can ask some to be assigned to you (avocat commis d'office). You have also the right to see a doctor.

After custody, you can be sent in retention centre to be deported to another country. In each retention centre, there is association independent from the State, which is there to inform you about your rights, and to help you to make your rights respected (France Terre d'Asile in Coquelle, near Calais). You can also ask for the assistance of a lawyer, who can help you to contest the decision to maintain you in retention and to deport you.

The maximum duration of detention is 45 days. But be carefull, you have a very short time to react if you want to avoid being deported. You have 48 hours from your arrival in detention to go to the administrative court and challenge the decision of expulsion. If you want to apply for asylum, you must also do so during the first 5 days.

You will automatically be presented to the judge of freedom and detention after 5 days. He will decide if it is legal or not to extend your detention for 20 days. After these 20 days, you will be again presented to the judge for a further period of 20 days. If you have not been expelled at the end of this period, you will be released.

It is therefore important that you seek legal support quickly when you arrive in retention.

Waiting zone/ Zone d'attent

Any foreigner entering France illegally by air, sea or rail, is at risk of being detained 4 days in a "waiting zone" at the airport, port or train station.

He/she has the possibility of applying for asylum status with the help of the NGO ANAFE.
ANAFE can be reached on, Monday to Friday from 11am and has an own website in french language.

Further information and Map of Detention in France

Gobaldetentionproject provides a map of all detention facilities in France and some basic information on the detention system in France.

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