Unaccompanied migrants’ inactivity in France

Fieldwork note

Young migrants’ coping strategies to face inactivity periods in France

Océane Uzureau & Daniel Senovilla Hernández,

Observatoire de la Migration de Mineurs, MIGRINTER- CNRS- Université de Poitiers

France constitutes an exception to the prevailing asylum-based model of reception of unaccompanied children that applies in most European countries. Access to protection within the French context is simply based on an assessment of the candidates’ minority and their condition as ‘unaccompanied’ (lodging an asylum application is optional). The identity assessment takes place at administrative and judicial levels and can last for significant lapses of time (more than 18 months in certain cases) until receiving a definitive decision. While being assessed, candidates to be qualified as unaccompanied children can be in different situations depending on the territory (Child Welfare is a responsibility of French departments -counties- and practices vary significantly from one territory to another). In most cases, and particularly when a Judge orders a provisional placement while an investigation on the identity is undertaken, candidates are accommodated in hotels or must provide for themselves during the assessment process (Bailleul & Senovilla, 2016, pp. 81-93).

During our fieldwork actions in different French spaces, a number of young migrants going through the above-described assessment process pointed out inactivity as a major source of concern linked to their situation. For those accommodated in hotels, meals and watching TV constitute the most accessible possibilities.

« Everyday I wake up at noon and I go for lunch. When there is a football match, I take a bus to watch it on TV at a friend’s place or with some friends at the hotel or sometimes alone in my room because I love football. I also like watching some French TV series in my room »


Young people often refer with their own wording to the anxiety that lack of activities provoke. “It burns our brain (Ça nous chauffe la tête)” is a very common expression they often use to describe this feeling. This negative impact increases when young people approaches majority with no definitive decision on their status: “They’ll allow me to stay at the hotel until 18 and then they will kick me out”.

However, young people react and develop different strategies to cope with this inactivity. Playing sports, and particularly football, represent a good way of temporarily escaping from the negative effects of imposed lethargy (Gernet, 2015, pp. 11-20). Some young migrants do manage themselves to get integrated into local football clubs. Others fabricate their own provisional spaces to practice sports. In the town of Poitiers, some young migrants accommodated in hotels have created an ad-hoc space close to the railway station where they regularly practice bodybuilding exercises while pedestrians walk along. Other young people prefer to prepare themselves for their integration into mainstream school or vocational training and practice everyday language or maths exercises that they have downloaded at Internet free spots or at public Libraries. We were particularly touched by the experience of a young African who showed us how he attended everyday his self-created schooling space at the bench of a public garden and how he followed his own school programme while waiting integration into real school (see photo below).


Being aware of the uncertainty of their legal situation, unaccompanied young migrants are often obliged to assume their own responsibility to face inactivity. As the following statement shows, they intend to keep control on their own future, despite this future remains seriously compromised by institutional desertion.

“Waiting involves acting in the meantime. They recommended me to wait without doing anything but I do things because there is no time to lose”



BAILLEUL Corentin & SENOVILLA Daniel (2016), Dans l’intérêt supérieur de qui ? Enquête sur l’interprétation et l’application de l’article 3 de la Convention Internationale des Droits de l’Enfant dans les mesures prises à l’égard des mineurs isolés étrangers en France, Poitiers, MIGRINTER, 157p., voir pp. 81-93.

GERNET, S. (2015), ‘Passions ordinaires’ des jeunes mineurs isolés étrangers : l’exemple de la pratique sportive comme processus de transformation identitaire, Revue Jeunes et Mineurs en Mobilité nº 1, Observatoire de la Migration de Mineurs, 2015, pp. 11-20.