For several days, the migrant welcome centers (CAO) in France’s provinces have not had enough space for new arrivals. As a result, Paris welcome centers are also overwhelmed. The La Chapelle welcome center in northern Paris, which has 400 spaces, is unable to process new requests, and people are lining up outside the doors.

Normally, migrants are redirected from the La Chapelle center to other French regions. But with the CAOs completely backed up, hundreds of people have been camping out on the street in Paris, and the number is growing.

“The situation could quickly become unbearable,” said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris. The French interior minister said that it was a “difficult” period.

So what is causing this bottleneck in the French provinces? There are several reasons:

  • School holidays: Some of the CAOs have been set up in buildings normally used for vacationing purposes. The state had to free them up again for vacationers during the February holidays. Some experts warn that this situation may occur again during Easter holidays, which are just over a month away.

  • Extended stays: “People are staying longer than expected at the CAOs,” explained one source familiar with the situation. In theory, migrants are hosted at a CAO while they make their asylum request, for a period of a few months. But some migrants have not taken the steps to apply for residency in France, which has complicated the situation. The interior minister has insisted that the CAOs are temporary. But he has also said they will stay open “as long they need to”. At the moment there are about 300 welcome centers throughout France, able to host about 10,000 migrants.

  • A new wave of migration: An unexpected influx of people is coming to France via Germany and Sweden, and could make up “70 percent of arrivals”, according to one source. Not all of these people are eligible to request asylum in France, which is straining the immigration system. Germany has received over one million migrants since 2015, but now wants to increase the number of deportations. In 2016, 80,000 people were expelled from Germany or left the country voluntarily, up from 50,000 the year before.


In Paris, the situation at the CAOs is causing migrants to begin camping on the streets again. To ease the bottleneck, 5,000 extra spots should be opened in the CAOs this spring. For now, Paris authorities are hurrying to prevent the return of migrant tent cities that the French capital has seen over the past two years. Some migrant activists have said that Paris authorities are resorting to “harassing” migrants — confiscating blankets in January, or installing large boulders under a bridge where Sudanese migrants had camped last week. However, the city said the stones were placed there because of upcoming construction.


Authors: Avi Davis and Charlotte Boitiaux

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