1On Monday 24 October 2016, hundreds of shelters are destroyed by power shovels, numerous riot police stand guard, as a few personal effects abandoned in the middle of the rubble give the impression of a war-like environment. Images of the dismantling of the migrant camp in Calais known as the Camp de la Lande are broadcast on a loop on 24-hour news channels.  Cameras film streams of stunned people, lingering on the faces of exile: their worn features. Men and several women, huddled in queues, board buses with their backpacks. But where will they go?
2The question can be seen in their eyes: where are we going? They do not know whether it will be in the mountains or by the sea, in a city, in the fields or near a forest. Most of them will arrive in reception and orientation centres (centres d’accueil et d’orientation - CAO) scattered across the French territory.  Old abandoned buildings: former training centres, army barracks, hospitals, or holiday camps. These facilities were created by the government in November 2015 to provide a temporary shelter for exiles, regardless of their residence or asylum status. 
3This was an attempt by the State to put an end to the inevitable installation of makeshift tents concentrated around Calais and Dunkirk and in major cities, particularly Paris. A few days after events in Calais, on 4 November 2016, exiles  living in tents in the Stalingrad neighbourhood were removed from the French capital. Since then, new tents have been erected continuously on the outskirts of the capital. In a vicious cycle, disappointed exiles keep going back to their starting point.
4Urban metropolises exert massive pulling forces on exiles. Political, economic and administrative institutions, means of transportation, food resources, assistance and capital of all kinds are concentrated there. It is therefore essential to ensure spatial proximity to these hubs. They are more accessible, offering rare resources to new arrivals (language community, charitable and activist associations, legal aid, administrations, etc.) and several expedients (undeclared work, recovery). They find shelter in the unoccupied interstices of urban space (squats, roadsides, disused railway lines, street encampments). Contrary to popular belief, a book confirms that the shanty towns of the 2000-2010 period - like those of the 1960s and 1970s - are not located far from the city, but in close proximity to its resources (Daubeuf et al., 2017: 21-22).
5Are large cities places of reception? There can be no doubt. Places of danger? Equally so. This is demonstrated by police arrests and fights over territory occupied by tents. This insecurity linked to policies aimed at controlling “illegals” who are described as a danger to the economy does not prevent them from being hired as day workers, or the use of their “capacity for hard work” to clear construction sites on Sundays. The city shows both sides simultaneously. No accommodation, but invisible street shelters. No documents, but a friend in housing who will write a certificate of accommodation to support an application filed at the prefecture. No lawyer, but a volunteer who will accompany them to avoid police checks.
6The city’s countless resources are matched with dangers, as we argued above. How is it possible to guard against risks in the midst of the unpredictable opportunities that arise every day? The risk of being arrested, deported and sent back to the first European country where you left your fingerprints. As Le Courant (2016: 28) shows, the lives of exiles are structured by threats and their corollary, mistrust: “While some live in a world contaminated by suspicion, others who are rarer, decide to live without paying attention, acting as if the danger did not exist. [...] Between paranoia and denial, there are many ways of living in an irregular situation.” Over time, exiles learn to be cautious, to live in the present in the face of threats.
7The streets of large cities are governed by this dual force: the force of resources and the force of danger.
8So where do they go? The exiles evacuated from the camps boarded buses without knowing their destination: the Vosges, Ille-et-Vilaine, Creuse, Oise, the Brittany coast? A circular sent to the prefects of the departments in November 2015 called for “solidarity from all territories”  to address a migratory situation considered exceptional by the government. State officials, in consultation with local elected representatives, were required to rapidly provide new accommodation places and social support for the exiles. CAOs were opened in villages and small towns, away from urban centres, where every local authority had to declare its abandoned buildings. The Calais exiles - after transiting through makeshift camps in the Paris region or humanitarian shelters in Paris and Ivry-sur-Seine - were taken to these small towns. With this authoritarian distribution of exiles across the national territory, accommodation became a key factor in controlling their mobility (Kobelinsky, 2015).
9While the Ministry of the Interior was vocal about the evacuation of the Calais camp, there was silence about the obstacles that exiles encountered, post evacuation, in the towns and small cities where they were sent.
10Based on a survey conducted between 2015 and 2019, this article seeks to describe the initial moments of settlement of exiles far from urban centres.  Based on the assumption that most of them will still be present in this country several decades from now, we observed the beginning of their journey, their practices of inhabiting, and the ways in which they adapt to or resist the various types of hospitality offered to them. These early stages of settlement are critical moments. Having experienced makeshift shelters in metropolises and humanitarian camps in the Paris region, exiles end up in unknown places, where they have no ties, where they need to settle in, first in the practical sense, and then by (re)activating solidarities, (re)creating ties, (re)building a network of resources.
11In contrast to the metropolis, the streets of a small town have two main characteristics, a force of threatening isolation and a force of local sociability.
12However, we should be wary of jumping to conclusions. Neither the wealth of the metropolis, nor the poverty of the small town can be taken for granted. Nothing is lost or gained as a matter of course. The risks of loneliness are to be feared in both cases. Resources can sometimes take unexpected forms: ways, means, assistance can be revealed in the process. This is why we explore the situations concretely and face to face. What do these territories possess (or lack) from the perspective of the exiles: relations with the city at the centre, communication networks, administrative and socio-cultural facilities, shops, employment and training structures? What protection network (places, services, support relationships) can they draw on? Under what conditions have new reception facilities been created in these areas?
13We seek to observe at first-hand how these critical moments are experienced far from large urban centres. What does it mean in practice for exiles to settle in medium-sized cities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, in villages and small towns of between 1,000 and 5,000 inhabitants? The towns where we conducted our survey are situated on the Atlantic coast and in Oise, in the countryside or in what is known as peri-urban France (Marchal and Stébé, 2018): developed and undeveloped areas, an over-representation of individual housing in suburban estates, a few social housing estates, developments structured around roundabouts and roads, spatial practices dominated by travel by car, and inhabitants who work several kilometres away from their homes in an urban area.
14The geographical location of accommodation - at the heart of a metropolis or far from it - cannot be reduced to this duality: the big city integrates, other territories isolate. There are many different situations experienced by exiles. Their settlement is dynamic. In every locality, large or small, the daily life of an exile is caught between access to resources and destitution, between exposure to danger and protection, between sociability and isolation, between anonymity and proximity. The movements of exiles around the territories must also be taken into account, as both a source of destabilisation and an accumulation of experience. While they are accommodated in a specific place, the constraints of the asylum management policy mean that they have to move on a daily basis to the metropolis and to various locations across the territory.
15In the first part of this paper, we describe the daily difficulties posed by the remoteness of accommodation centres, based on the survey carried out in the department of Oise. The exiles encountered and interviewed were sometimes assembled in structures located “in the middle of nowhere”, far from any administrative desk, more than an hour’s walk from any shop or means of public transportation. They are overseen by social work professionals, who are surprised that some of them disappear without warning. Although accommodation should provide stability, the movement of exiles continues.
16In the second part we clarify the role of the informal caregivers - local elected officials or volunteers - who, far from urban centres, attempt to mitigate the vulnerabilities of the exiles. In the survey we collected various accounts from people who had received care and from the “caregivers” who accompany them at one stage or another of their landing. We look at Western France. First, a municipality on the coast of Morbihan, which is empty at the height of winter and swells with over a thousand visitors in the summer. Between the willingness of the elected local officials to receive exiles, the solidarity of the villagers and an arson attack, the hospitality project ultimately fails. Finally, in a small town in Finistère, we look at the case of two Eritrean refugees who were provided an accommodation in a municipal flat. They mainly received assistance from local inhabitants, gradually building up a matrix of skills, a circle of hospitality and tailor-made support.
17These three contrasting examples, far from presenting a complete picture of the situations experienced by exiles in the French provinces, seem to us to provide some insight into the conditions of hospitality far from the major urban centres. The three situations are not comparable in every respect: some elements were available in one case but unavailable elsewhere and the puzzle is therefore incomplete.
In Oise, on the edge of a forest
18The centre opened in Oise in May 2016 - an hour from Paris –to receive asylum seekers in the outsized premises of the Afpa (National Agency for Adult Vocational Training). Situated in the middle of fields and small woods several kilometres away from the town and closed off by a barrier with an intercom, the road leading to the accommodation site runs for more than a kilometre alongside testing sites for training exercises (masonry, formwork, various open-air workshops related to the building trades), then deep in the woods there are small three-storey buildings, which serve as both classrooms and accommodation for the trainees, followed by a canteen where lunch is provided for both trainees and exiles. This is the countryside: at the back, a bocage of mature trees, to the side, fields as far as the eye can see, and in front, a long view over the green valley of Oise. Peace and quiet is guaranteed.
19The exiles occupy the penultimate two-storey building, before expanses of arable land take over. Each person has an individual room with a small wardrobe. The bathroom and toilets are shared, and they are clean, according to Ahmed, a resident of the centre who experienced sheltering in a tent in Paris and in an emergency accommodation in a disused hospital. The final building contains offices for the Afpa trainers and social workers, as well as a common room which can be accessed by the migrants, with a television, a coffee machine, four computers and a kettle.
20In the morning, there is hardly anyone outside, neither young trainees nor exiles, which gives the impression of a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. And exiles do not get a much clearer picture from the map of France hanging on the wall in the common room, even with the addition by social workers of a small hand drawn cross just above Paris and the words “Vous êtes ici. You are here.”
21Because many of them say that they have ended up in a forgotten place, here in Oise or elsewhere. From the outset, when people arrive, they do not have a big smile on their face; they travelled through two or three kilometres of fields wondering where they had landed. Then it is explained to them that they are not allowed to prepare food in their room. But soon the first question is raised: “Where’s the town? Where’s the train?”. Their first concern is how to get out of here. “It takes them a while to get used to it, but after a week or two they are quite happy. They say it’s quiet, there’s space, they can sit on the grass”, concludes a social worker. This impression comes up very often in discussions. There is no longer any need to hide in the crowd, no fear to overcome at every crossroads, no anxiety in the face of danger: the countryside does not present any risks except that of getting lost without a compass. As Mohammed and Ali, residents of the centre, explain, here they no longer encounter “fights”. Nor do they have to find a quiet place for two or three people to sleep every night. Above all, they are no longer subject to police checks several times a day in Paris. Each time, they were required to show their asylum application receipt, wait for the officers to check it, long minutes of waiting and anguish, never sure that all was in order, that they had a right to be there, in the street, to take the metro. Living without police provides respite.
22It represents a halt to migrants’ perpetual mobility, which consumes all their energy, as Laacher emphasises (2007: 90). At last, a break in the frantic race. Calmness and anxiety: the search for resources stops here in the fields, because at least the “basic essentials for living” are provided. In this accommodation they find a little stability, meals are guaranteed, but what next? The anguish returns. They have to walk for nearly an hour to get to the station and the shops in the nearby small town. Many have bought a second-hand bicycle to get to the station to go to Paris, to attend their administrative appointments (residence permit, asylum application, legal advice) or to visit someone they know. One day when we were there, a smartly dressed young man left on his bike after lunch, heading for the local youth centre. Another was feverish, and the social worker made an appointment for him to see a doctor the next day. He would have to travel by foot or by bike.
23After a few weeks, two months at most, boredom sets in, and there are often people missing from the roll call. On the Excel spreadsheet in the centre’s active file, two words appear against certain names: “VOLUNTARY DEPARTURE”. Since May 2016, there have been “twenty-seven voluntary departures”, a professional tells us, using the category established by institutions in charge of asylum. What is most striking - and we will see this elsewhere – is how obvious this category is to social workers and the situations that it covers. People who have left overnight, leaving their belongings behind. “To go where? Do you have any news? Why do they leave? Is twenty-seven people a large number?” There are no answers to these questions. The term “voluntary departure” indicates that the person could no longer stand this accommodation-confinement and the endless waiting with no prospects. It means returning to Paris, to look for other resources, other links with their community of language and interest. Back to square one for these young men who have often spent several months in the capital, roaming the streets, alone or in a small group, generally without a precise goal other than an opportunity to earn a few cents, but who had the feeling of being able to circulate and to manage their time. Deciding to move again is not to flee, it is to search for new resources and temporarily extinguish the wait. We learn from this centre on the edge of a forest in Oise that the respite provided by the long-awaited accommodation solution and the tranquillity of the place is short-lived. Remoteness reignites the forced mobility of the exiles.
Impossible rounds of administrative desks
24One of the practical issues that exiles have to resolve in their very first days in accommodation: how to keep track of their file, i.e., the asylum application, and more broadly, of all the assistance from which they can benefit and the obligations with which they must comply (food aid and financial assistance, health, enrolment in French language courses for example)? Exiles are allocated a place by the administrative authorities in a CAO, an emergency accommodation centre, emergency accommodation for asylum seekers or a low-cost hotel. Then the rounds of administrative desks begin, a daily activity that is essential to “keep one’s case file alive”: appointments at the OFII, the prefecture, with a specific social service, to collect correspondence from the domiciliation association, a food parcel from Restos du cœur,  clothes from Secours populaire,  unsold goods at the end of the market, etc.
25All of these visits necessitate many hours of travel, across the territory because the various services are scattered: a person may be accommodated in one town, but depend on food aid located in another town several kilometres away, or even be domiciled at an association situated in another department, and trips to the cities are frequent to get treatment and to find resources because that is where the exiles made their first contacts on their arrival to France. In addition, the rotation of accommodation multiplies the number of locations of administrative offices. The case of a young exile who applied for asylum in Picardy without being offered accommodation and is domiciled at an association in Amiens provides an illustration. He was hosted for some time by relatives in Amiens before they asked him to leave. After a few days on the street, he joined friends in Paris and slept in the kitchen of a migrant workers’ centre. He has to travel regularly to Amiens by train without funding to check his correspondence. Undertaking a return trip between Paris and Amiens to get one’s mail is unheard of! Because there is no question of missing a possible appointment! Under these conditions, time becomes a rubber band. It can extend and stretch over a whole day with an envelope at the end of the journey.
26Of course, there is a gender divide in the use of time. It is not the same for each. In a hotel providing accommodation to migrants in Oise, the men go out into town all day to look for work (or go about their business) while the women go to the administrative desks: the CCAS (municipal social action centre) twice a week to pick up correspondence, the queue is long, it takes a full day. A volunteer from Secours Catholique sometimes acts as go-between. “No mail!” “Thank you.” They are waiting for a decision from the prefecture, failing that, they go back with a fine from the SNCF.  Many men undertake undocumented labour every other week, in the building trade and at the end of construction works when the site needs to be cleaned up. Meanwhile women are busy collecting tinned food at all possible points in Pont-Sainte-Maxence, Senlis and Creil. Red Cross, charity shop, prefecture, CCAS, lawyer, this chain of institutions needs to be kept in mind.
27Accounts provided by exiles describe the vulnerabilities caused by this geographical isolation, the “remoteness” of accommodation: they find themselves far away from administrative services, shops, doctors, and those with whom they had created ties. As we have seen, young and healthy men who have the possibility of buying and riding a bicycle are in a better position to mitigate these vulnerabilities. The discounted Navigo travel pass  and smartphones also help to keep in touch with loved ones and to limit the effects of remoteness.  Sometimes the manager of a hotel reserved for accommodation of exiles informally provides transportation by car: every morning, he takes four women to the neighbouring town where there is a train station or to do the shopping. He makes up for the lack of public transport, depending on the individual migrant. These vulnerabilities are sometimes reflected in the accounts to the point of destitution, as in the case of a woman housed in a dilapidated hotel on the edge of a forest in Oise, seven kilometres away from the first food shop, who had to wait for food supplies to be delivered by an association. This situation is not uncommon. There was also the case of several young men who were taken by bus to a CAO located in a business park in Île-de-France on a Friday evening, and who remained without food for three days.
28The contrast between a hostel or a CAO enclosed in a forest and a flat in the city is striking. The situations trigger opposite processes. It is obvious that sociability and urbanity go together. A family’s account of their settlement in a flat located in council housing describes their settlement in the city. To begin with, the young couple visit various associations to get food or toys for the children, there is a charity present in the building, the neighbours are very attentive. These young people go to church. This is an opportunity to engage in exchanges in French. Since they attend the PMI (maternal and child protection centre), they come across a poster on enrolment of children in pre-school from the age of two. They register their child. Thus, they pass through various places, shopping centres, church, administrative desks, all ways of getting used to the wait and their new living environment, even though they know that it is only temporary.
Simple strategies to cope with the wait
29Does this mean that locating accommodation in city centres would in and of itself significantly improve the daily lives of exiles? Nothing is less certain. Indeed, for all of them, irrespective of geographical location and the availability of transport, the fragmentation of their time and space increases the vulnerability of the exiles. Understanding the daily lives of the exiles means deciphering the relationships between space (the location and material conditions of accommodation, the breadth of the round of administrative desks across the territory) and time (constraints of integration, training with prospects, paid work). As Fogel (2015) points out, analysis must include “migratory temporalities”, “time as an undocumented migrant” which causes many disruptions, sudden moves from one place of accommodation to another, abrupt reversals from one administrative decision to another. Space and time are violently disembodied and subject to the fundamental wait for rights. It is as if time is turned upside down by these waves of displacement. Temporalities are constantly undone by this wait for rights.
30How to wait when there is no reference point? How can waiting accentuate a situation of vulnerability? According to Kobelinsky (2014: 36-37), “alienation from time is not an objective of asylum or reception policy. Rather, it is an effect of bureaucracies. An effect which, in turn, has consequences on the lives of asylum seekers who are housed in a space that, after an initial period of rest and protection, confines and sets them aside, in a temporary situation that lasts.” 
31Waiting is that insecure time when asylum seekers have no control over their future and hardly any control over space: they are in the grip of worries. Waiting is everywhere that what they are looking for is not. It is the empire of impossibility. The only horizon is the accommodation centre.
32During a group meeting with exiles of different ages and in different situations at the Compiègne CADA (reception centre for asylum seekers), we realised that very few of them really knew the city. They had been there for several months, but they had not been able to explore it. “Stuck”, “too many worries”, they told us. Their outings were limited to compulsory administrative appointments. They only knew the associations and services they had to access. Although the CADA is located ten minutes’ walk away from the centre and in a town where buses are free, these families did not venture further. This is a form of vulnerability caused by waiting: space shrinks and can be scary. Despite the favourable geographical location, the grip of worries remains too strong.
33The exiles’ daily lives are marked by discontinuity, this impossible round of administrative desks and long waiting hours. Under the veranda of the hostel reserved for exiles in Oise, in a room at the CADA, or in the common room of the accommodation centre, every afternoon, they are used to waiting for time to pass. Here, time is not money. They have plenty of time to wait. Waiting. Having plenty of time. When one always has plenty of time, it is because one does not have the means to convert it into money. Time is then devalued, it is worthless. Poverty is defined in this way: the clock is stuck at the same time. There is no point in chasing time, there is nothing to be gained.
34What are the tips developed by exiles to endure the waiting period and get back on their feet step by step?
35A young Tibetan woman tries “not to sleep all day.” She does not go out into the city, but only into the courtyard of the CADA, which incidentally is not really a courtyard because it is a car park. Several CADAs advise asylum seekers - especially young men with families - to do voluntary work in town, to “keep me busy,” says a young Albanian man, a bricklayer by trade, “to do something, at least two days a week.”
36For others, coping with the wait means establishing their own status within the residential centre. Tania, a young Albanian woman, has been living in a hostel in Oise for two years. On our first visit, she showed us around: “That’s the kitchen,” she said, pointing at a small wooden garden chalet, thirty square metres, with glass doors, on the lawn adjoining the hostel. Two big gas cookers, four “cooking pots.” It was February and the weather was cold. “Cooking in the rooms is forbidden,” she stressed. The manager built this chalet for sixty-two families. She introduced herself as the representative of the site manager in his absence. Was this really the case? No, but Tania was the most senior person in the hostel, she knew all the technical procedures in the building, for example, washing machine, taps, water outlet, closing time, etc. She arrived in France in 2012. This was her sixth year in the department, so she was embracing the role of leader. She had connections with the Secours Catholique,  115,  Albanian families, got on well with African women, spoke English, and possessed tact to address tensions.
37Tania applied for asylum. “It’s a disaster. My husband left me here. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had no money. My daughter goes to school nearby. My case file is at a standstill in Beauvais. My husband is in prison. I make do.” Tania holds the keys to the washing machines, which she distributes twice a week. She knows everything: where to hang the washing, when the sheets are collected, which are changed once a week, how to set the heating, etc. and the rules: no fighting! “I don’t get paid. I’m not the boss. The manager isn’t here, so I have to do things properly. Before, it was an African woman. The others respect me.”
38She has regained a status as a “volunteer” or “helper”. This involvement in the life of the hostel also brought her a significant change in her living environment. Her room, which she shared with her daughter, is located in the “quietest” corridor of the hostel. She can use the kitchen in the manager’s studio and avoids the collective kitchen in the garden shed. Her domestic habits are therefore somewhat similar to those in standard housing.
39Reclaiming some control over one’s time, is this the strategy of those who suddenly disappear from an accommodation centre after a few days or weeks? How can we understand these courses of action? Little information filters through to those who stay. Some return to Porte de la Chapelle and occupy the pavements of the metropolis. Perhaps they are hoping for another evacuation at a later date, to be sent somewhere else that will seem more welcoming or less hostile? They are waiting for an event to happen to open up a new reality, an evacuation can mean a roof over their heads and new opportunities. For those who have been denied refugee status, it also means gaining time in relation to a deferred expulsion. In addition, it is a chance to get one’s bearings in France, to improve one’s command of the language, gleaning resources along chaotic paths.
40These various observations show the extent to which institutions control the space and time of exiles. Exiles’ movements range from settling to dispersal, from halting to scattering, from passage to reverse. While institutions settle, move, and make individuals wait, exiles struggle to find “their own rhythm by taking action, by choosing involvement rather than waiting” (Fogel, 2015). Fogel’s observation in relation to long-term undocumented migrants in Paris also applies to these newcomers who are directed away from the major urban centres. These two sides of time, both unbearable waiting and the accumulation of experience, come into play from the very first moments of settlement. In combining the analysis of spatial contexts and temporalities, it is exiles’ experience that becomes the relevant unit of analysis to understand their settlement process. According to Joseph (2007: 115-116), “it is indeed in the course of a lifetime that these small resistance techniques are woven together and take on real meaning. Otherwise, they are merely the defences of those who finds themselves cornered, with their back to the wall.” The settlement experience occurs in a place, but also between the metropolis and the remote areas, because relationships and movements are continuous.
Solidarity and (in)hospitality in the village
41We will now look at the role played by informal caregivers  in the municipalities that received exiles for the first time following the dismantling of the Calais camps in 2015. How do caregivers organise access to resources outside the major urban centres?  How can the effects of remoteness and waiting be mitigated? Small towns and villages give the impression that strong bonds can be established there. Anonymity - that “protective cloak” which is specific to major cities - has no place there (Pétonnet, 1987). But is this absence an opportunity that exiles can seize? On the contrary, despite local political will and the solidarity displayed by a group of inhabitants, the hospitality project fails.
Billiers, a municipality in Morbihan: the local level against the State
42In Billiers, Morbihan, in March 2017, the mayor described her municipality’s project as follows : “It all started with young Aylan, who was found on a beach,” she explained. A group of residents approached the municipal authorities: “This is unacceptable.” In the centre of this village of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, a pretty little town house owned by the municipality has been empty for years, somewhat abandoned. Two inhabitants offered to renovate it, one was a plumber, the other a painter. “We made a cosy little nest out of it,” said the mayor. During the renovation work, the town hall contacted the prefecture.
“We attended meetings. We were really pumped up. Our house was ready to receive four people, but suddenly the programme changed: we were told that the State wanted larger centres.”
44The reason given? Economic efficiency: according to the prefecture, associations providing support to asylum seekers should not waste time with multiple journeys across the territory. Another place had to be found to meet the needs. The Billiers sailing centre was turned into a reception centre. The State signed an agreement with the owner (the Pupilles de l’enseignement public ) to host fifteen to twenty people. The mayor convened a municipal council, in the presence of a representative of the prefect:
“There were 60% in favour of this reception programme and 40% whom I will describe as monsters [...]. On the other hand, the waverers came round to the merits of the project.”
46The municipal authorities then fitted out the centre for reception. “But in October 2016, some idiots found a way to burn down the centre. [...] There’s nothing left! It went up in smoke!” The story could not end there. Some inhabitants set up a movement: “J’ai mal à mon village” (“I feel the pain of my village”). 400 of the 930 inhabitants of Billiers met in front of the torched site to demonstrate, joined by associations and elected representatives from the region. Since in the end the prefecture had rejected “our initial ‘little house’ project”, the mayor told us:
“We wanted to use it for women victims of violence. The prefecture blocked it: ‘You are on standby for receiving migrants.’ Let’s be honest, one day the prefecture says ‘you’ll be hosting families,’ the next day ‘you will take in single men.’ After the dismantling of Calais, they knew who was getting on the buses. I saw the pictures where you could mainly see young men. They operated a triage, it’s an ugly word but that’s the word. For the administration, it’s more convenient to have everyone on hand.”
48This case highlights blockages in the temporary accommodation system for exiles. The prefecture manages, sorts sites and changes their scale, leaving local authorities in the dark. The realities of reception collide. First the rejection and the criminal act of the arsonists, then the villagers who agree to welcome young single men rather than families, and finally those who plan a humble reception in a small house, renovated on a volunteer basis by inhabitants. Lastly, the State, anxious to streamline the asylum system and to re-house exiles from humanitarian centres and camps as quickly as possible seeks to optimise social support. This case also reveals a disconnect in terms of scale: a village with only a few inhabitants in winter, came up against the prefect’s determination to open a place that was supposed to house a significant number of young Afghan men seeking asylum.
49The temporalities envisaged by the different actors also collide. The emotion caused by the dead Syrian boy on a beach cuts the villagers to the quick. They get organised immediately, they are ready and impatient. Administrative processes are slower. In Amiens, a woman who had offered part of her home to host an asylum seeker more than a year ago told us, in the summer of 2017, that she was “still waiting.” State-administered solidarity and local solidarity can be out of step. To this day, the asylum seekers “promised” to Billiers have not yet arrived: a holiday centre has been damaged and the “little blue house” is still unoccupied.
Two refugees and a dozen caregivers in South Finistère
50Other experiences took a more positive course. For example, in Combrit-Sainte-Marine, South Finistère, with 4,000 inhabitants, two Eritrean exiles were hosted in March 2016. A balance was achieved in term of resources between the size of the seaside resort and the limited number of exiles received: while the arrivals came from afar, they have faces and the inhabitants who lived there all year round could get to know them, recognise them and appreciate them. The arrival of migrants seemed to go smoothly, at the very least there were no public clashes, except for the uproar from local elected representatives of the extreme right. This is because conditions were different: the exiles are males, not so young (thirty-eight and fifty years old), who had obtained the status of refugee, who had accommodation and who were Christian. But the quality of the accommodation and mutual familiarity do not preclude the persistence of serious obstacles: exceptional slowness in obtaining and renewing administrative papers, obstructed access to employment and a faltering command of the French language.
51After spending time on the streets of Paris, Asante, aged fifty, and Janice, aged thirty-eight, met in Villemomble, Île-de-France, in 2015, where they were taken in for eight months by the association ADOMA.  In Eritrea, they had both experienced police and military violence. They were first sent to Quimper in February 2016, and then, in March 2016, they were hosted in a municipal housing in Combrit-Sainte-Marine. From February 2017 until 2019, we regularly followed up on them and the people around them.
52Through an elected official (independent) and the volunteers providing assistance, we obtained data on developments in the support given to Asante and Janice. The town of Combrit, like eleven other municipalities in Finistère, notified the prefecture in 2015 that they had facilities to receive migrants: a seventy-square-metre flat, located on the first floor of a municipal school in the centre of Sainte-Marine. At the same time, the town hall informed the population of its decision to receive migrants and called for people to come forward to offer accommodation, skills or simply time for the prospective refugees.
53Since March 2016, a core group of residents, most of them women, have been “providing care” to Janice and Asante. Three of them, Adelina (a retired speech therapist, aged 72), Monique (a retired doctor, aged 62) and Viviane (a psychologist on leave from the Ministry of Health, aged 52) decided to get involved at the local level: “We are involved in a dynamic driven by our personalities and without being in an association. It is a good cause.” At the start, there was a great deal of mistrust between the associations in charge of refugees and these three women volunteers. The dispute related to “the truth of the accounts [given by the exiles].” The institution instructed the associations to evaluate and assess the veracity of the words that tell of a past, to verify professions, to check explanations for departure and border crossings, while the three women focused on the personal situations of the exiles in the present. While bureaucratic-administrative exchanges were aimed at obtaining biographical data for verification purposes,  the activists let all the accounts given drift. In short, knowledge and techniques on one side clashed with intuitions on the other.
54Caregivers in Combrit did not apply the same rationale: they focused on solving daily issues. They aimed through their attentiveness to the exiles to build an immediate relationship of complicity governed by trust. While Adelina underlined the procedural zeal of a post office employee in the process of enabling Asante to withdraw money from his bank account without difficulty, Viviane described the process in place for learning French as unsuitable for people who did not attend school in their country of origin, and Monique deplored the fact that access to employment depends on command of the French language, all three noted that, over the months of their interactions, relations with the social workers improved considerably.
55According to the elected local official in Combrit, “the objective was to offer a period of respite [for Asante and Janice], to make them feel at home and to help them take back control of their lives. [It was necessary] to get them to understand that this was their home, theirs, that each of them had their own key, that no one would come, that they could put down their belongings for as long as they needed.” Volunteers provided transportation, conviviality, and offered odd jobs and help with learning the French language.
56A close watch was set up, as illustrated by the following episode. In July 2018, Asante announced that he wanted to go to Ethiopia to help his family get to Sudan, especially as his eldest son, soon to reach the age of majority, would have to join the Eritrean army for many long years if he did not leave. Once again, solidarity was activated in the municipality. Viviane advanced the money for the plane tickets which Asante reimbursed with the support of the diaspora. Jean filled out the visa application and drew his route to collect his visa from the Ethiopian embassy in Paris on a map of the capital. On the day he left for Paris, the volunteers were available by phone to guide him when he got lost.
57Eventually Asante left for more than a month. He remembered to tell the volunteers that he had arrived in Addis Ababa and that he was staying with a childhood friend. He found work on the border with Sudan, selling tomatoes. He was able to call his family by phone, which he had not been able to do for three years: “Since then he has been calling them and seeing them every day on his mobile phone. We have seen them too,” explained Monique. But his return was “epic”: despite the precautions taken by the volunteers – “We booked a direct flight for him, because we are always afraid of problems during paperwork checks, the simpler the better” – Asante had to make a stopover in Stuttgart, the airline lost his luggage, and he forgot his passport at the airport. Once again, the volunteers handled the emergency, explaining the situation by phone to recover his luggage and identity documents.
58It must be recognised that the Sainte-Marine volunteers provided exceptional support (administrative, job searches and friendship bonds) to Asante and Janice. In addition to some we did not meet, Jean, Monique, Viviane and Adelina also involved their spouses. In all, up to ten people helped them, while in most cases, this proportion is inverted: one social worker is generally in charge of an average of ten migrants.
59Small towns, undoubtedly, make this watch by close caregivers possible. In the village, at the post office, with the social services and recalcitrant inhabitants, the caregivers activate social links for Asante and Janice. The watch has also its shortcomings, its uncertainties: since most caregivers are retired, ageing, sometimes unwell, they may momentarily disappear, the time it takes to treat cancer, slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s, look after their grandchildren, etc. They also get tired, lose heart and become discouraged.
A yawning gap: employment
60What was the situation at the end of 2017, after nearly two years of support provided by the Finistère caregivers? Viviane summed up the deadlock well:
“Access to work is a problem, not only for refugees. This is a much bigger issue. We patch things up with odd jobs. It helps financially, but it’s a sticking plaster, even if it’s better than giving money to send to the family. In my opinion, the hardest part is yet to come. Because there will be no more partners to help them. They will feel immensely alone and disillusioned. Our limits as volunteers in a town like Combrit have been reached.”
62Indeed, once the settling-in period was over, physical and psychological rehabilitation on the right track, and the platform for mastering the French language in place, a major stumbling block remained: access to employment.
63Janice left for Brest in December 2016, thinking he would find more employment opportunities in the metropolis. He was accommodated in a hostel, and after a year he decided to rent a flat in the private rental sector. Despite local contacts, he could not get an employment contract and has to undertake undocumented labour. He remains in contact with caregivers in Combrit and Asante.
64Asante first thought of leaving Combrit for Quimper, hoping he would find a job there. His search proved fruitless. When we last met him in the winter of 2019, he seemed to want to stay in Combrit for the long term; he was still living in the municipal flat above the school. He had no plans to go elsewhere; he knew a few people; he was not alone for Christmas. He shared his daily schedule with us, punctuated by French lessons provided in a school in Quimper twice a week, and at his home on other days, by the informal teachers we had met and others, each with a specific day, a specific time slot, a specific method.
65In June 2017, he worked at a pizzeria in Sainte-Marine for a while. By chance, a restaurant owner opened a pizzeria a few metres away from his home and, through mutual acquaintances, offered him a position as a kitchen assistant that could lead to a permanent contract. This offer was all the more important as it facilitated his application for family reunification, which Asante often mentioned: “This job seemed wonderful. Getting work fifty metres away from home, we thought: “it’s a miracle””. But Asante left the job after just a few weeks. A typical configuration of working conditions for subordinates in the restaurant industry, accentuated by an imperfect command of French, unreliable comprehension, the inability to read expiry dates, long working hours, this experience underlined the fact that Asante’s major difficulty was his inability to express himself and to understand French. During the rush, not being able to understand, not being able to read, not being understood makes one lose one’s capacities, gives one a headache, impairs one’s memory, slows one’s reactions. The pace is quick, one order follows another, everything must be done rapidly, actions must be precise.
66Giving up the job of kitchen assistant had an impact on his standing in the seaside resort where he is now recognised, greeted, invited, and sometimes asked to undertake odd jobs.  His “resignation” quickly came to be known in the municipality and this was accompanied by some sharp comments which Jean overheard and that were reported to us: “He doesn’t understand French, what do you expect? After two years! He doesn’t really want to work, he’s on RSA,  he has free accommodation.” Asante experienced this as a personal failure.
67In January 2019, during Asante’s account of the gradual process of settling in Combrit, we were struck by his description of learning to ride a bike. He talked about it as a game, as a sport, and as a way to get around, to be less dependent on his caregivers or on coaches to get to Quimper. Monique also talked about cycling:
“As soon as he returned [from Ethiopia in the summer of 2018] we resumed our French lessons and insisted that he should learn to ride a bike. At that time, Jean went on holiday and lent him his bike for a fortnight. Every day, he would train on his own in the school yard. We only saw him once he had mastered his balance, we even videoed him. He has been using it ever since, he comes here by bike to do the garden. It’s a door to independence, he was relieved that he wouldn’t need us anymore for small trips. It’s good because sometimes we felt that he was embarrassed to have to depend on us. He often said “sorry, sorry”. For Christmas we bought him a helmet, lights, he is all set.”
69In our email exchanges with Monique during the spring of 2019, she told us that Asante had missed out on a job because the employer doubted that he could come to work by bike in the rain.
70What do exiles gain by getting on a bus to take their chance far away from the metropolis? While major cities provide a multitude of shelters combined with greater physical dangers, the small town or village offers a stopover combined with enhanced protection where the voluntary sector is strong, committed, and persistent. Otherwise, discrimination can be head-on, harsh and violent. Elected officials and supportive residents have to convince, dispel prejudices and constantly activate social contacts.
71Without caregivers, in these territories with medium-sized towns, small towns and villages, the effects of remoteness prevent exiles from settling in. Caregivers attempt to cushion the shocks as they come. The numerous administrative obligations across a radius of fifty or even 100 kilometres, where public transport is conspicuous by its absence, require close guidance from dedicated volunteers. They provide support, connecting the exiles to resources, sites of administrative appointments and job offers, which may be scattered across the department. Between destitution and resources, exposure to danger and protection, isolation and sociability, anonymity and proximity, caregivers are the only levers. Everything is in their hands. In their absence, popular resentment takes over. The town becomes a source of danger: isolation.
72Despite this protective shield in small towns, the fundamental barrier to the right to work remains, breaks up long term prospects. This uncertainty of time characterises the temporality of exile. When one moves from one institution to another, from one town to another, or even from one region to another, when an exile disappears and then reappears, the support relationships are inevitably patchy and fragmented. It is impossible to build strong relationships. It is impossible to fully inhabit a space by developing continuous relationships with one’s environment. We note these as major factors of vulnerability, not only linked to the transit, but also to the multiple institutional referrals, successive temporary relocations, repeated trips to dispersed administrative desks.
73The contextualised analysis of the exiles’ settlement gains from integrating temporalities. First of all, the experience of time - the waiting, the feeling of wasting time by remaining isolated in an accommodation centre or by making multiple fruitless trips to administrative desks - this grip of worries can make resources inaccessible to exiles, even though they are nearby. The potential of a territory thus remains latent. Then, in the course of time, exiles gain experience, i.e., resources, social contacts, and thus a certain confidence in action. This experience mitigates the weaknesses of support structures in remote territories and help exiles to move around more easily and to assert their rights at various administrative desks. In order to activate rights, it is necessary to build up a large amount of confidence over a long period of time, to gradually reduce vulnerabilities, to develop strong interactions, and to combat mistrust at every street corner. Finally, the support provided by caregivers – which is essential in geographical areas with limited public services - takes time. The story of the relationship between Asante, Janice and their ten caregivers is enlightening: tailor-made support over a long period of time, almost four years, and virtually full-time availability.
74To conclude, we need to change scale for a moment. What is the most solid base for the future? If we take a longer view, there is no guarantee that small towns surpass the metropolis and vice versa. So how do we re-encapsulate the space and time of the exile? There is no doubt that the main driver of integration is and will remain work, employment, salaried work, paid labour. It is the status of employment, earning money and the rights attached, which together form the foundation of the individual in society. We should be concerned about the years that go by in which exiles remain “jobless”. Could this be it the main barrier?
75Behind this lies the issue of presence in society, the place that one occupies within it. More significantly, the issues raised by exiles relate to the right to exist and to the evaluation of this existence. Will they ever have the right to work? Whether in megacities or in villages, it is the answer to this question that enables financial gain and consumption, defines social identities and belonging, and organises social relations. In our society, work is a norm of integration, because it organises our collective life, as the arena in which social exchanges are expressed. The real trap for the exiles is this prohibition. This shows that the issue shifts. It transcends territorial adaptations. The right to work is the main driver of integration. Its absence causes long-term vulnerabilities, which will be very costly.
The Calais “Jungle” had up to 10,000 inhabitants before its scheduled demolition. On the eviction, dismantling and resettlement of camps in Europe, see Bouagga and Baré (2017).
According to a report by the OFII (Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration - French Office for Immigration and Integration), 5,253 people were transferred to 197 CAOs between 24 and 28 October 2016 (OFII, 2017: 23).
Except in the case of CAOs and ordinary emergency shelters (social emergency services), accommodation is only provided to exiles who have submitted an asylum application. The OFII is in charge of coordinating and allocating the accommodation available under the national reception system (dispositif national d’accueil - DNA).
We use the term “exiles” in this article to put the emphasis on what people experience: exile. As a result of threats or violence, they were forced to leave a country where they could not assert their rights (Laacher, 2005). Exile also expresses the conditions of wandering and uncertainty that these individuals encounter in France while they wait to be granted protective status. Finally, the term captures all administrative situations arising from the law on foreign nationals: asylum seekers, refugees, undocumented migrants, rejected asylum seekers and those subject to a Dublin procedure.
Circular of 20 November 2015, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Housing, Territorial Equality and Rurality.
This survey was conducted in 2016-2017 with the support of PUCA and in 2018 and 2019 with the support of ANR Babels. Fieldwork was conducted in several locations: the humanitarian shelters in Porte de la Chapelle and Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris, and approximately twenty residential centres outside the capital (in particular, in Picardie, Oise and on the Atlantic coast), with a focus on centres located outside major urban centres. We carried out interviews and observation with exiles, informal caregivers and professionals supporting them.
“Restos du cœur” is a French non-profit organisation offering free meals.
“Secours Populaire” is a French non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting poverty and discrimination in public life.
SNCF is France’s national state-owned railway company.
The Navigo travel pass is a means of payment for public transportation in the City of Paris and Île-de-France region.
On the use of mobile phones, which paradoxically points to the stability of relationships even in the most difficult living conditions, see Vollaire (2016).
On the island of Chios, the endless waiting periods for migrants to be transferred to the European mainland take on another dimension, see Foucher (2018: 103).
“Secours Catholique” is a French non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting poverty and exclusion and the promotion of social justice.
115 or SAMU Social is a municipal humanitarian emergency service provided in several cities in France.
We adopt this terminology, which is already used in the area of disability, to describe those who provide help to exiles and who do not recognise themselves as “activists” or “volunteers”. A caregiver is a person who helps a dependent person in his or her entourage with daily activities and is therefore defined by his or her role and actions in relation to the person receiving assistance. They provide help when they can, outside of any structure, occasionally or on a daily basis, for an indefinite period which is always considered to be temporary. The term covers very different situations and seems to us to be well suited to the people we met during the survey who are driven by a civic and secular sense of humanity. On this point, see Masson-Diez (2018).
The history of activism in support of foreign nationals is marked by settlement in major urban centres, close to industrial areas where immigrant workers were employed. For an overview of this history in the North, see Pette (2012).
The mayor, as is often the case in villages, has no political affiliation that would have any meaning at the national level. Her slate was called “Avec nous, pour l’avenir de Billiers” (“With us, for the future of Billiers”). From listening to her, we are inclined to consider that she had a left-wing leaning. She is also a social worker.
The Pupilles de l’enseignement public is a non-profit association whose stated mission is to act for the right and access of all to education, culture, health, leisure, and social life.
ADOMA is a semi-public company created in 1956 by the State to provide accommodation for migrant workers.
See Le Courant (2016). All inspectors, depending on their professional field, apply a standard to assess appropriate reactions to them. Those that fit the paradigm of appropriate behaviour in relation to a situation of subjection in which the capacity to accept is at issue, such as measures of empathy: the warden and the model prisoner; the doctor and the obliging patient; the activist for prevention and the compliant user, the volunteer and the responsible prostitute, the policeman and the reformable offender. This standard serves as an evaluation framework for those who deviate too much from the model of the right prison, medical or social response.
He mentions people who ask him to prune trees, hedges, mow lawns, but also to participate in the food bank collection.
The RSA (revenu de solidarité active) is the minimum social welfare allowance in France.