After often arduous journeys undertaken without the protection of their families, many young unaccompanied migrants arriving in France receive neither shelter nor assistance from the authorities, forcing them to sleep rough in the most appalling conditions. On 5 December, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will open a centre in Pantin to offer them respite, medical care and administrative support.
It is estimated that by the end of 2017 25,000 young people will have applied for unaccompanied minor status in France. The situation is extremely serious: “Many young people who say they’re minors receive no assistance and sleep rough in the most appalling conditions, surrounded by groups of adults, and at the mercy of people smuggler networks. A system of shelter, care and guidance provided in a secure and humane environment is urgently needed!” says Corinne Torre, head of mission for MSF in France.
The assistance provided at the centre to young people who say they are unaccompanied minors will include legal aid, medical care, mental health and social services. In cooperation with several associations (ADJIE, Safe Passage and COMEDE) and lawyers from the Bars of Paris and Seine Saint-Denis), MSF teams will follow up each individual situation and offer support.
“The day centre will be available to 50 young people referred by associations we work with. Some will have arrived recently in France or will be in transit, while others will have had their status as minors rejected. We want to help them to understand their rights and, if they want, to lodge an appeal with the family court. We also want to give them access to medical care in a safe and peaceful place,” explains Corinne Torre.
Most of these young people, who have been exposed to extreme danger during complex migratory journeys, often find themselves alone in a hostile environment on their arrival in France. They are confronted with a lack of information and transparency, too few reception facilities, a maze of administrative bureaucracy and refusals to even register their claims. Some do manage to apply for child protection and, if recognised as minors, are looked after by children’s services. But those whose claims are turned down are ejected from the legal system and denied any further assistance.
“This is one of the reasons why we wanted to open the centre,” continues Torre. “We’re calling not only for unconditional protection for these young people as children at risk but also for the upholding of the presumption of minority, which is regularly contravened.”
 Report by IGAS (Inspectorate General of Social Affaires).