1The political management of migrant populations has been analysed in numerous studies through measures of concentration and confinement, of which refugee camps are the paradigm and detention centres are a repressive variant (Agier, 2008; Kobelinsky & Makaremi, 2009; Fischer, 2017). However, some crises give rise to the reverse: dispersion policies. In an attempt to reduce the migrant encampment in Calais (the Jungle), in 2015 French public authorities created a new approach – Reception and Orientation Centres (Centres d’Accueil et d’Orientation, CAOs) – with the aim of providing shelter for migrants in more than 200 sites throughout France. Initially conceived as temporary and targeted for a specific critical situation, the measure has been subject to improvisation, reversals, exemptions and retaking control. This case study examines an emergency policy in situ and more broadly sheds light on the question of temporality in the development and implementation of public policy.
2Socio-historical studies on public policy have highlighted the interest of analysing temporality (Laborier & Trom, 2003) and temporal sequences to understand the development of types of public measures and local practices (Dubois, 2003). We will not elaborate on the history of the development of a national programme for the reception of asylum seekers in France in 1980–1990 (Massé, 1996; Kobelinsky, 2010): we simply note that this was marked by a structural lack of accommodation places that has been partially compensated through a succession of temporary measures (Bourgeois et al., 2004; Frigoli, 2004; Le Méner, 2013), often launched in the context of specific crises. The genesis of CAOs during 2015–2016 occurred in the particular and ephemeral context of the crisis caused by the establishment of a large, highly publicized, informal migrant encampment in Calais. As has been analysed relative to shantytowns and squats, illicit settlements generate ad hoc responses by public authorities, involving a diverse range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in a way that lies outside of ordinary procedures (Cousin & Legros, 2014; Aguilera, 2012; Bourgois & Lièvre, 2019). In our case, CAOs are distinctive as a measure aimed at those initially excluded from public policy around reception and shelter, i.e. individuals mainly viewed as ‘illegal’ immigrants trying to unlawfully cross the border between France and Britain. The crisis seems to have allowed a digression from the status quo in order to resolve the accommodation issue by including these individuals in the category of asylum seekers.
3The situation in Calais crystallized the contradictions of the ‘moral economy’ of migration in Europe (Fassin, 2005), which considers illegal migrants as a security threat and refugees as victims to protect. Asylum seekers are recognized by law as legitimate recipients of state assistance, with ‘material conditions of reception’ guaranteed during the examination of the asylum claim, including accommodation and a daily allowance.  This is reserved for a restricted category of migrants likely to receive asylum protection; moreover, it is insufficient, in order to avoid creating an incentive effect – governments regularly claim that if aid is too generous it will attract migrants. The creation of these new centres reflected the persistence of these tensions between migration control and humanitarian considerations, with the emergence of a public problem related to ‘potential’ refugees whose living conditions represented an emergency.
4As Lispky and Smith have shown (2011: 130), framing problems as emergencies can lead to out-of-the-ordinary public initiatives, the implementation of which deviates from government policy, regulations and common law. A designation as an emergency allows the mobilization of extraordinary efforts and expenses, as well as the overriding of rules of equity and principles of legal stability. By definition, emergency solutions are versatile and are implemented experimentally in an improvised manner through negotiated adjustments in the field. The ad hoc character of these measures is also a characteristic of humanitarian governance, defined by Dunn (2012) as an ‘adhocracy’ – flexible and adaptable, but first and foremost unstable and uncertain. Focusing on the effect the temporality of an emergency has on public policy and stakeholders allows a more ‘micro’ understanding of public initiatives.
5In this way we will see how, initially, the situation in Calais was qualified as a humanitarian emergency calling for a response from public authorities, and then how the implementation of the CAOs was concretely negotiated – not so much with the regions receiving migrants as with the designated target population. Finally, we will look at the way in which the programme was perpetuated beyond this critical phase by redefining its mode of operation.
Qualifying a Humanitarian Emergency
6Calais, 24 October 2016: during the final dismantling of the encampment, the local authorities rented a hangar in an adjacent industrial zone and transformed it into a sort of ‘bus station’ to evacuate the 7000 people who had been ordered to leave the site. The area was encircled by units of riot police and gendarmes checking badges authorizing entrance to the ‘protection zone’. Inside, a civil defence crisis and disaster management centre organized the flow of people. Officers from the French Agency of Immigration and Integration (OFII) registered migrants, giving them a bracelet with a colour corresponding to the region they would be relocated to. Journalists from around the world (700 press passes were issued) crowded around the prefect and her communication team, who presented this as a ‘humanitarian operation to provide shelter’ intended to put an end to the inhumane living conditions in the camp and to protect those who agreed to seek asylum in France. For those who still hoped to illegally cross the border, the ‘common law’ of repression would be applied, through identity checks, confinement in administrative detention centres or, ultimately, deportation.
7This evacuation was staged as an exceptional procedure, mobilizing uncustomary human and material means. Through this massive logistical deployment based on a pre-defined plan, the state presented an image of power – even more so given that the executive branch had recourse to authority granted by the state of emergency (in place in France between November 2015 and October 2017, following a series of terrorist attacks). Yet looking at the genesis of the CAOs shows how, far from a well-coordinated plan, this solution developed erratically through successive adjustments in a period of crisis, given both an effect of threshold (the number of people concerned) and an effect of visibility (very high media coverage). Far from reflecting the omnipotence of the state, the construction of the public measure in practice demonstrates on the contrary the scope for negotiation that the crisis opened for stakeholders typically in a dominated position.
8The study was carried out in Calais from February to October 2016, with an extension in Paris from November 2016 to March 2018.  The method was based mainly on ethnographic observations in the camp for a period of nine months, as well as in meetings between non-governmental and governmental stakeholders, and at court hearings of appeals related to deportation procedures. These observations were supplemented by some 30 interviews with migrants, employees of non-profit organizations and NGOs, and public officials (from the Calais prefecture, Ministry of the Interior, OFII, and the French Agency for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, OFPRA); by consulting personal or non-profit organization archives and administrative documents; and by attending public conferences whose participants included political figures or senior government officials.
The Critical Thresholds of the Calais Crisis
9The evacuation of the Calais Jungle is revelatory of the management of the ‘refugee crisis’ in France. This ‘crisis’ refers to a period of sharp increase in asylum seekers arriving in Europe between 2014 and 2016, and the disorganization linked to the lack of coordination between countries concerning the intake of these people (Lendaro et al., 2019). The consequence of this was the concentration of those arriving in a limited space, in particular in zones where borders are difficult to cross. The most visible sign of the critical nature of this concentration was the informal settlements that formed before governments attempted to regain control of a situation their own policies had helped to create (Bouagga & Barré, 2017).
10The situation in Calais mobilized local authorities in direct coordination with central government. From 2014, it was viewed as an urgent issue and handled between the prefecture and the office of the Ministry of the Interior. While Calais has always been a sensitive subject due to the border, there was clearly a threshold effect in the perception of the situation as a ‘crisis’. The situation worsened with the establishment of the encampment and its appalling sanitary conditions. Major humanitarian NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders raised the alarm in September 2015. The French Office of the Ombudsman published a damning report in October 2015, following which several non-profit groups took the government to administrative court for its failure in its reception of migrants. The approaching winter heightened this perception of urgency, as illustrated by the words of a senior Ministry of the Interior official:
“When winter arrived in 2015 and we realized that we had 7000–8000 people on the site, a Cold Weather Action Plan  began to appear complicated, from which arose the idea of creating CAOs, which Bernard Cazeneuve [Minister of the Interior] announced in October. The idea was on the one hand to increase the police presence and try to make the border as watertight as possible in order to discourage migrants from coming to Calais, while at the same time offering every migrant who wished it shelter elsewhere in France.” (Interview, Paris, September 2017)
12This solution occurred in a context in which providing winter shelter on site did not seem desirable due to the precedent of Sangatte, a site that attracted migratory routes and was the focus of criticism. Opened during a previous crisis of migrants in transit to Calais in 1999, the Sangatte humanitarian centre, managed by the Red Cross and providing basic shelter, food and medical care, crystallized tensions between aiding migrants and migration control (Courau, 2007; Clochard, 2008). The site was ultimately declared an incentive for illegal border crossing and closed for this reason in 2002. Subsequently, informal encampments of varying size succeeded one other, with temporary relief measures being adopted from time to time, particularly during the winter, without ever establishing a permanent reception scheme.
13In 2015, when the migrant population in squatter camps in Calais had grown from several hundred to several thousand, it was decided, under pressure from the municipality and the local economic community, to encourage migrants to gather on an undeveloped plot of land next to a day centre, where a non-profit organization, La Vie Active, was mandated to offer humanitarian assistance. The mayor of Calais (from the conservative party Les Républicains) was strongly opposed to any project offering shelter in the municipality. So the informal settlement, originally known as the ‘Lande camp’, was established by the migrants themselves with the help of volunteers and non-profit and humanitarian organizations, taking the form not of an accommodation centre, but a shantytown, remarkable for its size (several thousand people in the summer of 2015, and up to 10,000 by the summer of 2016) and the extent of media coverage it received (Agier et al., 2018).
14Several levels of decision-making occurred to develop responses to this specific situation viewed as a public order problem, a humanitarian problem and, more broadly, a national and international political problem. Those involved were considered under different categories of individuals, giving rise to different measures: this study analysed measures aimed at adult males, as women and children were subject to specific measures in light of their vulnerability (Bouagga & Segond, 2019).
Sheltering People in Transit, a Cause for Volunteer Activism
15Volunteers and citizen groups were the first to mobilize. Active from the 1990s in Calais, and more so after the closure of Sangatte (Pette, 2012), migrant aid organizations advocated for the opening of shelters unconditionally accessible to people in transit. One of the flagship projects, developed by the Migrant Services Platform (bringing together organizations and collectives on the northern coast), was the ‘Migrant House’: a safe and humane shelter on the migration route offering access to health care and legal information. Formulated in 2013, the project was based on the principle of unconditional shelter for people in distress as enshrined by the law (Rullac, 2011).  Initially this took the form of informal initiatives outside of the government’s scope, such as the ‘Victor Hugo squat’, opened by activists in the No Border movement for women and young children (and later taken over by a non-profit organization mandated by the government). Some of these sites received support from local officials, who joined a network of elected representatives in favour of policies welcoming migrants.
16The sharp increase in the number of people in the different camps on France’s northern coast made it more difficult to implement a project of reception centres limited in size. At the same time, the situation highlighted the urgency of intervening to ensure shelter to those in transit. In this period (winter 2014 to spring 2015), migrant encampments also formed in the streets of Paris, and humanitarian organizations such as Emmaüs and France Terre d’Asile alerted public authorities to the issue of sheltering ‘first arrivals’. While drownings in the Mediterranean were making headlines, the government adopted a Migrant Emergency Plan, with the objective of responding to the challenge of migrant intake and reducing ‘illegal encampments’, described as a “major humanitarian challenge”.  The plan provided for 4000 additional places in Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers (Centres d’Accueil pour Demandeurs d’Asile, CADAs) and 2000 places in emergency shelters; however, an observation of the immigrant flow into the European Union indicated an increased need of several tens of thousands of places.
17At the same time that the Migrant Emergency Plan was announced, a public report was published that the Ministry of the Interior had commissioned the previous year from Jérôme Vignon (president of the National Observatory on Poverty and Social Exclusion) and Jean Aribaud (former prefect of Calais) to propose solutions for the recurring crisis in Calais. The mission met with organizations working in the field to aid migrants and in its report supported a solution of providing shelter away from Calais (Aribaud & Vignon, 2015). This proposal differed from the Migrant House project, but was similar to that of ‘respite centres’ (this term would in fact be initially adopted), the aim of which was to allow migrants “to recuperate, especially during winter, or for those who are ill, etc., and during this time social workers can convey other information to them”,  in the words of the president of the Calais migrant aid organization Salam (Soutenons, aidons, luttons, agissons pour les migrants et les pays en difficulté), which came up with the idea. These shelters should aim to offer people in transit respite on a difficult journey, but also distance them from the harmful influence of smugglers. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior from 2014 to 2016, had been faced with a call from aid organizations to shelter migrants when he was the mayor of Cherbourg (Rault-Verprey, 2015). He supported this project of respite centres and included it in the ministry’s strategy to address the crisis in Calais.
18In this way, CAOs represented a form of institutionalization of volunteer activism, with the accompanying effects of ‘domestication’ – the transformation of an activist project to an administrative project, attenuating its demands, as has been highlighted in studies on the sociology of activism (Politix editorial committee, 2005). The appeal for an unconditional right to shelter was echoed by political figures seeking to put an end to the disturbance of public order arising from the Calais camp, both by distancing migrants from the border and by facilitating the access of some of them to the asylum system in France. This reinterpretation of the original demand was not the subject of unanimous agreement among supporters of migrants, such that their participation in the measure was the subject of tension.
Requalifying Illegal Immigrants as Potential Asylum Seekers
19The conception of the measure was based on the designation of the target public as ‘potential asylum seekers’. According to a young civil servant in the Pas-de-Calais prefecture, the perception of migrants by the administration changed:
“Before, such populations were not likely to be granted asylum, but now they are considered people who in large majority come from countries at war and so have the right to seek asylum in France.” (Interview, Calais, March 2016)
21Yet the national origins of migrants present in Calais had been relatively similar for more than 15 years:  thus we can posit that this requalification of ‘illegal’ immigrants in Calais in public policy led to viewing them as ‘potential refugees’ – people eligible to receive, in France, protection and a legal status.
22Non-profit organizations such as Secours Catholique and Amnesty International had advocated for this recognition for years. They received a favourable reception within the governmental asylum system, notably in the personal commitment of Pascal Brice, director of the French Agency for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (OFPRA) from 2012 to 2018 (Brice, 2019). A career diplomat, he wanted to strengthen the independence of the agency responsible for screening asylum claims, which was criticized for its high level of refusals, suggesting a subservience to the demands of the Ministry of the Interior concerning migration control (Halluin-Mabillot, 2012). The director of OFPRA and his officials developed an informal partnership with local organizations (in particular Salam and Secours Catholique) to seek contact with migrants attempting to cross the border into the United Kingdom, arguing that, given their nationalities “they are people who may be eligible for asylum”.  Indeed, while protection is granted on an individual basis, the political situation of a country of origin is a determining factor and results in contrasting rates of protection: 23% for all nationalities combined in 2015, but 80% for Afghans, 46% for Eritreans, 97% for Iraqis, 33% for Sudanese, and 96% for Syrians,  which represented the majority of the nationalities on the northern coast. An asylum application service was opened in the sub-prefecture of Calais to facilitate the procedures and resolve situations of illegal status: the admission of these migrants into the asylum framework was consistent with “a strategy of public order”,  which operated at prefectural level and aimed to prevent illegal border crossings. This approach also promoted the solution of providing shelter prior to asylum application in order to create conditions of trust.
The Solution of Humanitarian Dispersion
23The idea of offering shelter to ‘potential refugees’ was far from immediately unanimous within government services. As a civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior admitted, encouraging migrants to apply for asylum in France seemed “quite esoteric” for these services, as it was a question of having “a proactive approach in Calais, precisely because in Calais they don’t want to seek asylum in France”.  At first glance, this solution seemed even more incongruous as, for officials in central government as in the field, it would have the effect of generating new applications in services already saturated by the increase in arrivals, by reorganizations following the 2015 asylum law, and by staff cuts in prefectures due to austerity budgets. Nonetheless, the Vignon-Aribaud report persuaded authorities that a solution to the situation in Calais, beyond border control, could lie in a strategy combining access to asylum and accommodation away from Calais. It was thus in the face of an acute if circumscribed problem that the decision to develop a new measure to provide shelter was taken – without, however, developing a real national strategy.
24At the same time, the CAO project was a form of distancing through the provision of shelter: unable to effectively expel people from France, the CAOs would allow them to be kept at a distance, as explained by a civil servant in the Pas-de-Calais prefecture:
“Their plan is to cross into Britain, while for us, in terms of shelter, our guidelines are to propose solutions away from Calais – the idea is to distance them. The government is not supposed to encourage illegal crossings or to encourage people to come to Calais. So we offered solutions, but farther away.” (Interview, Calais, May 2016)
26Locally, a temporary shelter – heated shipping containers with a capacity of 1500 places – was planned to open in January 2015 at the Lande site, adding to the shelter for women and children that already existed and was managed by La Vie Active. The capacity was intentionally limited,  and in parallel, law enforcement agencies carried out operations of arrests and transfers to detention centres far from Calais.  However, faced with a largely non-deportable population given legal guarantees granted to people from countries where their lives could be in danger, CAOs represented another solution for dispersion.
27In November 2015, at the beginning of winter, the authorities decided to ‘shelter’ 700 people. Several days later a ministerial memo announced the creation of temporary shelters for the migrants of Calais, to allow them “to benefit from a period of respite and to reconsider their migration plans”:  thus arose a new public measure, created from the emergency accommodation budget (BOP 177), which falls under the Ministry of Housing. The shelters were termed ‘Reception and Orientation Centres’ (Centres d’Accueil et d’Orientation, CAOs) in another ministerial memo, which praised the “exceptional mobilization of the government to address a particularly difficult humanitarian situation”. This memo recommended that migrant services should not be interrupted during the winter period, nor should coercive measures be taken with regards to individuals, whatever their migration plans – in theory, house arrests or detention of undocumented migrants were suspended for humanitarian reasons – though only for the Calais ‘crisis’. No conditions pertaining to legal status, or even being in the process of gaining legal status, were required to access shelter: this was stressed by a senior OFII official who managed the transport logistics of people from Calais to the CAOs:
“In Calais, the strategy was to offer unconditional shelter in a CAO, without asking them anything.” (Interview, Paris, November 2016)
29Offering unconditional accommodation without any criteria, not even vulnerability,  this emergency measure was exceptional with regard to the ordinary operating methods of the agencies concerned. These departures from typical procedures were as much (if not more) justified by the imperative of public order as by humanitarian concerns. A civil servant at the Ministry of the Interior defended the government policy at an administrative tribunal hearing in this way:
“The CAO was an emergency response to a crisis situation. It was necessary to dismantle the encampment as there was disruption to public order. We went beyond what the law requires by providing a place in a CAO to anyone, independent of the consideration of their vulnerability. It was a crisis and we had to get out of it, but the government is not expected to give accommodation to every migrant!” (Administrative tribunal, Lille, 21 June 2017)
31In this way, CAOs were a solution created in an emergency to resolve the ‘crisis’ in Calais, whose acute (and highly publicized) nature justified going beyond legal and regulatory frameworks and usual administrative routines. While the humanitarian organizations helped to lead the authorities to change their view of ‘illegal immigrants’ to ‘potential asylum seekers’, these organizations did not subscribe to the adopted approach of dispersal to shelters at a distance from the area. As a result, this policy was introduced on a voluntary basis, modified by local ‘tinkering’ of the modalities of implementation – that is, a set of weakly formalized practical decisions, aiming for immediate efficacy rather than overall consistency. The ‘patch-up job’ of this CAO measure devised in Calais sheds light on the atypical modalities of developing an emergency public action, which proceeds by trial and error, alternating between consultation and unilateral decisions, improvisation and restoring control.
Local Improvisation with National Consequences
32In a number of studies, public actions in response to crisis have been shown to be a heterogeneous combination of exceptional measures that centralize decision-making to an extreme (Maccaglia, 2008) or, conversely, unusually delegate public authority to the private sector, particularly the non-profit sector (Gardella & Cefaï, 2011; Lipsky & Smith, 2011). Faced with the diversity of emergency situations, public policies are simultaneously characterized by flexibility and ambivalence: they bypass partners by imposing decisions in an authoritarian manner, yet at the same time involve people in decision-making who are ordinarily not considered in the mechanisms of implementation. They reorganize the priorities of an action or an administrative service. They suspend the application of regulations on the use of public funds or the criteria for allocating resources. Although the justification for these overriding actions is practical efficacy with the goal of resolving a serious and immediate problem (characterizing it as an emergency), the unstable – even inconsistent – nature of these measures raises difficulties in terms of their effectiveness.
33The CAO measure was hastily created, without real reflection on the location of the proposed shelters, apart from their distance from Calais. One challenge was to find accommodation places in other regions in very short timeframes, in turn relying on gaining acceptability for the relocation of migrants from Calais in areas that theoretically felt little concerned by the question of providing them with shelter. The other challenge was that migrants would have to renounce trying to get to Britain and relocate to an unknown place. This would require promoting the attractivity of the plan, an approach out of step with the practices of street-level bureaucrats more accustomed to dealing with scarcity (Lipsky, 1980).
Building Acceptability from Afar
34The project was officially co-piloted by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Housing; in practice, agents in the Pas-de-Calais prefecture coordinated the operation, depending on the accommodation offered by other prefectures (with the exception of the Paris region, Corsica and French overseas territories). In contrast to Germany, where civil society stakeholders were extensively mobilized to receive migrants, the creation of CAOs in France relied on devolved administration in a context that local and ministerial officials perceived as hostile. They met with strong reluctance, reactions of fear, and sometimes the expression of xenophobic opposition of the local population to people stigmatized by the grim reputation of the Calais Jungle.
35To limit these negative reactions, small centres (30–50 places) were favoured; inversely, the use of decommissioned military barracks was quickly ruled out. Public agencies preferred discretion, in a policy of blame avoidance (Weaver, 1986).  The prefects approached trade unions and holiday businesses with seasonally occupied lodging, or they sought out empty buildings such as disused hospitals or schools. With elected officials “very divided” on the issue, regardless of their political affiliation,  and with little time to engage in true consultation, the prefects largely resorted to requisition. Thus, the CAOs were imposed on the various regions, in a political context perceived as “too virulent”, in the words of Emmanuelle Cosse, then Minister of Housing, who attributed this reaction to the “muddled” position of the government on migration policy:  the overall strategy for the reception of refugees was not clear, as the CAO measure applied only to the migrants in Calais.
36The involvement of the non-profit sector also created confusion. Approved non-profits in the fields of social welfare or refugee aid were contracted through mutual agreements outside of government procurement procedures, since they were not permanent organizations. These non-profits had to respond urgently to a demand from the state, which was often their main source of funding. A manager of the non-profit Forum Réfugiés (one of the main organizations dealing with asylum seekers) related how, following a telephone call from the prefecture, the organization had to open a centre “in a rural area, in an EDF [French electricity utility] holiday centre requisitioned by the prefecture”.  The partners could, to a certain extent, negotiate the daily rate paid by the government, corresponding to the level of service (17 euros for lodging without meals, 25 euros for full board), particularly in terms of social and legal support. However, the organization had no control over the placement of people, leading to absurd situations: in the metropolitan area of Lyon, where the main office of Forum Réfugiés is based, 2000 people eligible for asylum-seeker accommodation were waiting for a place when the CAOs opened, but the latter were reserved for migrants from Calais. Because of this, refugee organizations themselves viewed the CAO measure with a certain scepticism.
37In practice, a number of CAOs were opened in areas with less housing demand, where there were more opportunities to find empty dwellings or unoccupied buildings: rural areas, small towns, deindustrialized mid-sized cities, etc. In October 2016, 213 CAOs were opened; only 16 were located in a city or metropolitan area. This disparity contributed to generating feelings of stigmatization in certain regions, leading to reactions of hostility. When the plan to evacuate the Jungle was disclosed in the press in September 2016, opposition became increasingly virulent according to a senior Ministry of the Interior official:
“So the choice was made and we would need to create 10,000 places in CAOs, which was leaked to the press – it was a prefect, I think, who leaked it to Le Figaro, which shows that it’s difficult: we live in a hostile world, with a government that is unpopular… with the right-wing already imagining itself in charge and non-profit organizations attacking us from all sides.” (Interview, Paris, November 2017)
39The conservative president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, Christian Estrosi, declared his “total opposition” to the project, which he said would end up “creating mini-Calais Jungles” (13 September 2016), while the conservative president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, called on mayors to oppose government pressure to take in migrants (15 September 2016). This accelerated politicization limited the implementation of the measure.
40For some regions, however, aside from a moral commitment to aid refugees, the prospect of support for local activities through subsidies to operate the centres was a significant incentive. A civil servant from the Pas-de-Calais prefecture reported being contacted by elected officials from small villages to open a CAO, but tried to find other options because “the migrants didn’t want this”.  Added to the difficulty of creating acceptability for CAOs in areas far from Calais was making them acceptable to the migrants for whom they were planned.
Making CAOs Attractive to the Calais Migrants
41When the operation was launched in the autumn of 2015, the government struggled to recruit migrants willing to leave the Calais encampment and be rehoused in distant CAOs. Work to raise their awareness would be necessary to convince them to go to areas holding little attraction (isolated from urban centres and economic activity) and to live in sometimes hastily reopened buildings with basic conditions and uneven support services. The CAO system, as it was initially set up, was on a voluntary basis, based on an approach of ‘elective’ dispersion. To this end, public authorities called on non-profit organizations to act as intermediaries with the migrants and convince them to be relocated to CAOs.
42The CAO measure met with difficulties from the start: many migrants who had voluntarily left came back to the Calais camp after days or weeks, criticizing the isolation and conditions. For example, Ahmad, a stateless person from Kuwait (a Bedoon), found himself “in a small village on the German border. There were 20 or 30 houses, it was totally dead. To get to the supermarket, you had to walk for an hour! The Red Cross brought in supplies once a week.”  He stayed for 10 days, then decided, with some companions, to hitchhike back to Calais. The other Bedoons around him in the camp decided to refuse offers to leave that would disperse the group, and felt they would have a better chance of integration in Britain, where there is a community of the same origin. This was also the conclusion of Abdou, a young Sudanese, whose brother had accepted the offer of a CAO, had applied for asylum in the autumn of 2015, and had been sent to a shelter “near Switzerland”, but his case had not advanced: Abdou decided to wait to see what would happen with his brother and in the meantime continue to try his luck by hiding in a truck headed to England.  He did not trust the solution proposed by the government, especially as the police deployment in Calais made him feel treated as an enemy in France.
43In response to this reluctance, an outreach service was put in place through a contract with a non-profit organization, in which social workers went out to meet migrants in the camp and propose that they relocate to a CAO. In February 2016, even as the police proceeded to destroy part of the camp, an employee of the non-profit SOS Solidarité mandated by the government approached two Afghans to offer them, in broken English, heated lodging, showing them Brittany on a map. The Afghans politely declined. The employee confided her consternation at seeing buses chartered by the OFII leaving half empty three days a week when the Jungle was “dirty and ugly” and the living conditions in the CAOs were much more humane.  A prefectural official explained the process of persuasion in this way:
“Some have relatives or friends in England, but many don’t, and we can explain to them that in France they have rights. We try to show them another image of France than one limited to law enforcement, rats, prostitution, etc. Sometimes what we say can fall on deaf ears for three months, and then one day the same migrant will come to us saying “I’m fed up, I want to go and recover in a respite centre” – there are some that are working really well…” (Interview, Calais, March 2016)
45To convince those living in the camp to renounce England and leave the reassuring social network of the Jungle, public officials and their contractors offered arrangements outside of the usual bureaucratic options: group departures by community or improvements in material comforts or services. Sometimes small details made the difference, as one prefectural official explained: “For them, Wi-Fi access is very important, so that’s something essential you have to think about.”  Efforts were also made concerning food or activities to reduce the feeling of isolation, which could be even stronger compared to the bustling environment of the Jungle.
46The CAOs equally had to be promoted as a desirable solution to the supporters of migrants, some of whom had a real distrust of public authorities, who they accused of spending more on border security and repression than on helping people in difficulty. Activists went to observe the conditions in the CAOs, made lists of good and bad practices, and tried to inform the migrants. Faced with what it viewed as negative publicity, the prefecture attempted to obtain the cooperation of volunteers and activists, organizing weekly consultation meetings (attended by organizations active in the field and government representatives). As pointed out, with no illusions, by one of the participants: “These Thursday meetings with the prefecture were set up to sell the CAO policy.”  This type of meeting effectively served to contain criticism and to reconcile different understandings about situations (Pette, 2014). Nonetheless, volunteer and activist groups saw themselves given an untypical role in developing CAO policy in the field, able to use the emergency as leverage to gain exemptions favourable to migrants.
47During these meetings, a specific calculation for the CAO operation was made: the number of departures was an indicator of its success. The non-profit organizations flagged up any dysfunctions observed, in particular concerning the application of the Dublin III Regulation, a European agreement under which a prefecture can refuse an asylum application to be filed on the grounds that another European country is responsible for the examination of the case; the asylum seeker can thus be forcibly returned to the first country of entry (‘readmission’). While the application of this law was suspended in the Calais service to convince people to request asylum in France, it was still applied in other prefectures in France. Relocating to a CAO thus seemed like a “trap” to people thinking they could apply for asylum and finally finding themselves “Dublined”. During a meeting in May 2016, a discussion took place about the creation of a brochure to promote CAOs:
“Prefecture: We created a little cartoon with [the non-profit group] Salam to present the programme, and we plan to translate it as well.
OFII: Should we put French courses and Wi-Fi in the brochure? That’s not included in the requirements!
Secours Catholique: We have to mention Dublin, otherwise we’re misinforming people. I would put: “If you are [impacted by the Dublin regulation], we advise you not to leave” – but you’re not going to agree.
OFII: Yes, but in reality, [the application of Dublin] is completely arbitrary!
Prefecture: In a document produced by the government, we can’t write that the application of a law is arbitrary!
OFPRA: We could write in the case that an individual was first registered in another country there will not be forced readmission.
Secours Catholique: I wouldn’t say that. You know well that sometimes guys leave a CAO, and they’re caught and forced to return [to their first point of entry] because of Dublin!
OFPRA: There are many more cases of the cancellation of the Dublin procedure! We must respect our commitments, and they are kept in 99% of cases.
Secours Catholique: The real difficulty for us is that we’re dealing with guys who have left a CAO because they’re scared!
Prefecture: It would be good to know the figures: we’re aware of some dysfunctions, but…
Secours Catholique: We’re aware of less than 50 – OK, that’s low, but it’s not insignificant.
Prefecture: But do we have to talk about Dublin in this document?
OFPRA: It impacts a considerable number of people here.
Secours Catholique: 50% to 80% of new arrivals [first registered in another country in Europe].”
(Field journal, 19 May 2016)
49As the meetings progressed, volunteers and activists obtained from the government officials commitments concerning the non-application of the Dublin regulation for individuals who accepted to leave the Calais camp for a CAO. The immediate challenge of resolving the crisis allowed uncustomary forms of consultation between the highest levels of government and local volunteers – some, for example, were invited to inter-ministry meetings in Paris. While they had little influence on political decisions, they could play one agency against another: for example, OFPRA against OFII. The Calais emergency presented them with a window of opportunity to negotiate certain terms of migrant reception.
50The migrants themselves were also brought into discussions: the sub-prefect held regular meetings with representatives judged influential (‘community relays’), whose role was to convince their compatriots to relocate to a CAO and to inform authorities about any difficulties encountered. These meetings aimed to create a bond of trust, and of reliance, between the authorities and the migrants of the Jungle. The latter, no fools, used this arena to make demands. For example, a disgruntled Afghan community relay told the interpreter participating in the discussions with the sub-prefect:
“I have cooperated a lot with the government to help stop the violence against the police […], to encourage people to apply for asylum or to relocate to the containers – now they need to make an effort on the waiting times, on the procedures.” (Field journal, Calais, 20 April 2016)
52While seeking the consent of the camp dwellers on the dispersion plan proposed by the public authorities, these meetings created unprecedented access that gave the most marginalized a voice in the presence of officials in the prefecture, the Ministry of the Interior, and OFPRA, whose director regularly attended in person. Indeed, migrants in Calais received markedly more favourable treatment than other asylum seekers in France in terms of both waiting times and acceptance rates: 80% obtained asylum.  They also became aware of the power of their media visibility, not hesitating to appeal to the press, including dramatic actions such as the hunger strike started in February 2016 by a group of Iranians protesting against the destruction of part of the camp.
A Disquieting Calculation and its Contradictions
53This more favourable treatment, in addition to the offer of accommodation lacking elsewhere, made Calais a privileged entry point into the French asylum system, attractive less to migrants in transit than to those wishing to seek asylum in France and encountering difficulty accessing either the procedure or accommodation in other regions.
54As a result, during the summer of 2016, people began to arrive in Calais who were not seeking to cross into Britain, but in their own words, coming “to take a bus to a CAO”, sometimes even on the advice of a non-profit organization assisting them in their region, as was the case of an Iraqi who arrived from Rennes and had been living for three months between emergency shelters and the street, and whose social worker promised accommodation in the city’s CAO if he came via Calais.  In this context, the CAOs met with unquestionable success: the buses were full and a queue formed in front of the parking area, which increasingly resembled a second camp. The agents organizing the departures were now forced to select priority individuals – and this while the population of the encampment continued to grow. At each CAO steering meeting in Calais, the calculation of departures became more concerning: the strategy to ‘empty’ the Lande camp had ended up attracting those who, for lack of available accommodation, were living on the street elsewhere in France (waiting times thus grew to several months). These arrivals found more support and services in Calais, due to the concentration of non-profit groups and volunteers there. At the same time, they hoped to gain accelerated access to the procedure for applying for asylum: Calais had become an improbable asylum service.
55This realization led to the decision to definitively dismantle the encampment, as a civil servant at the Ministry of the Interior explained with disarming simplicity:
”So then we created the CAOs to offer them favourable conditions for their reception… which then created a migration movement to relocate to the CAOs, and so then we emptied Calais.“ (Interview, Paris, December 2017)
57So, following an approach of elective dispersion, an approach of coercive dispersion was adopted, in response to the aggravation of the situation (up to 10,000 people in the camp at the end of the summer of 2016). In the context of a pre-electoral campaign in France, it was a question of “putting an end to an anarchic, dangerous and catastrophic humanitarian situation”, according to a prefectural official. 
58Supporters of migrants who had viewed the implementation of the CAO measure with suspicion saw this decision as a confirmation of their fears: all the more so when the government announced it would dismantle the camp as well as all the related services it subsidized (e.g. meal distribution, accommodation in containers and prefabs, etc.). A group of organizations then lodged an appeal against the ‘humanitarian’ CAO operation, arousing the indignant incomprehension of the prefectural and ministerial officials, who accused them of “leaving people with their feet in the mud by making them believe in pipe dreams”, as expressed by a Ministry of the Interior official during the administrative tribunal hearing in Lille.  The use of the humanitarian argument by the state allowed a form of depoliticization of the issues around migration and borders, reducing them to moral and emotional issues (Ticktin, 2006). While supporters had employed the argument of compassion to denounce the repressive approach against the migrants, this adoption of compassion by the state to argue for humanitarian dispersion denied their condition as people in transit. The expulsion of the camp thus marked the end of the hiatus during which the measure was more malleable and the humanitarian–security trade-off more negotiable.
From Dispersion to the Creation of a Centralized System of Regional Distribution
59How did a measure implemented in an ad hoc manner to resolve the Calais crisis become part of national asylum policy? While previously some flexibility had been negotiated during out-of-the-ordinary consultations between the people concerned and decision-making authorities, the Ministry of the Interior took back control of the CAOs after several months and decided to integrate them in the national reception system for asylum seekers (Dispositif National d’Accueil, DNA), operating under its budget (BOP 303)  and under its criteria for the allocation of places. As a result, eligibility became dependent on legal status, thus substituting a “sorting strategy” (the term used by certain activist groups) for the principle of providing shelter unconditionally. Following the evacuation of the camp, hundreds of people drifted without shelter, deprived of assistance, yet the period identified politically as an ‘emergency’ had passed, bringing a return in force of state rationale, routine management and migration classification.
A Return to “Normal” in Administrative Procedures
60The experiences of those who relocated to CAOs were contrasting depending on the reception conditions at the site. In certain locations, a local non-profit network was organized, sometimes composed of volunteers who had been active in Calais and who tried to reproduce locally a range of services and activities, from legal support to recreational activities. Other sites experienced problems related either to material conditions (e.g. dilapidated buildings or insufficient food) or to procedures: lack of information, support or translation. Above all, the decision of certain prefectures to apply the Dublin regulation to migrants was seen as a betrayal, mobilizing asylum seekers and their supporters. In Rennes in November 2016, hunger strikers explained their protest in this way:
“No one wanted to stay in France, but they promised us that we could stay […]. We believed them, but as we didn’t want to stay here since France was a country of passage, but if we were accepted, we wanted to apply for asylum here. But in the end, we realized it wasn’t true. […] With this hunger strike, we want the superiors to be notified in order to be able to talk to them about the fact that the promise wasn’t kept.”
Signed: The Eritrean, Sudanese and Somali migrants from Calais relocated in Rennes.
(Communiqué, 16 November 2016)
62Similar actions multiplied in the months following the evacuation of the camp, including minors, who had been placed in separate shelters and hoped to have their cases examined by Britain. The information was disseminated via a mailing list created by supporters who were involved in Calais and had relays in the different regions. The relationships forged over the months of the Calais crisis made it initially possible to resolve these situations case by case: the OFPRA director intervened in individual cases reported by a volunteer who had his personal phone number. However, these practices, which bore the trace of the experiences amassed in Calais – in terms of resources for politicization and the mobilization of support – waned over time.
63Indeed, the previous strong personalization of public action, outside the usual framework of hierarchical functioning, gave way to the gradual return of bureaucratic routine. The situation of the people evacuated from camps in Paris illustrates this: these individuals were relocated to the same CAOs as those evacuated from Calais, but as they had the intention to seek asylum in France, they were not subject to the same exemption relative to the application of the Dublin regulation. The takeover by the Ministry of the Interior of the entry procedures for CAOs, and then progressively of the actual operation of the CAOs, marked the end of the exemption measures due to humanitarian emergency. The decrease in the number of arrivals to the European territory following the agreements between the European Union and its Mediterranean neighbours Turkey (2016) and Libya (2017, 2018) facilitated this ‘return to normal’ of administrative operations. Although situations of homelessness or distress continued in Calais, in Paris or in other regions, these had less media and political visibility, making it less possible to cite them as cause to suspend administrative procedures prejudicial to human rights.
Integration of the CAOs in a Regional Management System
64As highlighted by Lipsky and Smith, emergency policies are by nature unstable and temporary: in the face of large expenditures, public officials can tighten allocation criteria, reduce the number of recipients, or find systemic solutions (Lipsky & Smith, 2011: 147). In this case, this became a question of restricting access to accommodation to people eligible to seek asylum in France (excluding migrants in transit or those affected by the Dublin regulation) and establishing a more directive management of their distribution across the country. A senior OFII official summed it up in this way:
“Since the latest asylum law,  we have the possibility of saying “If you don’t go there, we will cut your ADA [asylum seeker’s allowance]” […] – what we call directive orientation. It also allows distribution [of the migrants]. Directive orientation allows its imposition – there’s no longer freedom of movement. […] The idea is really to better distribute [asylum seekers] across the country.” (Interview, Paris, November 2016)
66The OFII intended to develop a demographic/regional policy, according to an approach based not on repopulation, but rather a compromise between the availability of low-cost accommodation, the accessibility of public services and transport, and the avoidance of a concentration of migrants in a particular area. The ability to suspend allowances was used both as leverage to impose this redistribution and to reduce the financial costs of reception.
67The policy of regional redistribution was shaped by the Paris crisis, as more than one out of three asylum claims in 2016 were filed in the Paris region. The migrant reception centre at the Porte de la Chapelle (known as the ‘Dubois centre’), created by the mayor of Paris with the aim of putting an end to the street camps of homeless migrants and managed by the non-profit Emmaüs Solidarité with state funding from November 2016 to March 2018, thus operated as a transit centre. The migrants (adult males) were admitted under the condition that they intended to apply for asylum and were required to go to the prefecture for a review of their administrative status, before being directed to emergency migrant shelters in the Paris region (Centres d’Hébergement d’Urgence Migrants, CHUMs),  or to CAOs in other regions. The measure was made possible by a convergence of opportunities (the mobilization of non-profit groups and citizens, the commitment of the Paris city hall, and the immediate availability of CAOs after the expulsion of the Calais camp), and was part of a developing policy that aimed to ‘rebalance’ the reception of asylum seekers across France. The civil servants in the Ministry of the Interior and the OFII who were interviewed reported that they were impressed by the efficiency of the German system, organized based on distribution criteria that assigned asylum seekers to regions according to their reception capacity (Hinger, 2017).
68A public report considered that the CAOs, “which opened as a matter of urgency, have thus effectively fulfilled an essential mission during this migration crisis. They make a decisive contribution in strengthening the strategy of orientation in the national reception system and should contribute to preventing the establishment of camps on the public thoroughfare” (opinion, Draft finance bill 2018). The aim of centralization and public order was clearly stated – very different from the dynamic that contributed to the inception of the CAOs in the improvisation and confusion of the Calais situation. The result differs little from the rationale underlying the creation of ‘transit centres’ in the 1990s in response to the crisis of refugees from former Yugoslavia, effectively ‘reinventing’ old solutions.
69The CAOs became part of the system of structures to shelter asylum seekers, presided over by the Ministry of the Interior, whose management was delegated through contracts to non-profit organizations or social sector businesses, over which the control of public authorities was increasingly asserted through detailed requirements, and even the possibility of using these sites for the house arrest of those unauthorized to apply for asylum in France (Slama, 2018). As they were ‘routinized’, the CAOs became both a link in the regional management of migration and a selective system to categorize populations according to eligibility status. The humanitarian principle of unconditional refuge faded rapidly.
70The case of CAOs reflects how, in response to the Calais crisis, an ad hoc measure was improvised in a dynamic of tension between pressure from non-governmental stakeholders (e.g. non-profit organizations and citizen collectives) and public officials grappling with contradictory migration and asylum policies. Identifying the situation in Calais as an emergency allowed exceptions from the ordinary procedures for processing foreign nationals, in the interest of public order and humanitarian imperatives. The makeshift nature of the deployment of this measure offers valuable lessons on public action in times of crisis. Emergencies can mobilize forms of authority that go beyond usual powers, but can also involve stakeholders who are ordinarily not represented, such as local supporters or migrants themselves. During the circumscribed temporality of the emergency, some of the stakeholders associated with the governance of the measure were able, despite being in a dominated position, to seize the opportunity to negotiate more favourable treatment by asylum agencies, both administratively and materially. These atypical forms of negotiating a public action contributed to forging the initial originality of the CAO measure, allowing it to be discussed, locally, as an instrument of elective dispersion of migrants, before being taken over ‘from above’ as a strategy of highly restrictive regional distribution. The reestablishment of ordinary routines indicates the extent to which this ‘adhocracy’ created uncertainty, contradictions and misunderstandings.
71Rather than defining CAOs as solely informed by a strategy of control, domination and surveillance or, conversely, solely part of a compassionate policy of humanitarian assistance, it is more apt to highlight the practical ambivalence, characteristic of forms of emergency public action, marked by the saturation of agencies, impediments to their usual way of functioning, and the high visibility of the failings of public measures. In addition to the ephemeral nature of such a measure is the short memory of public officials, contributing to the recurrent reinvention of new solutions during times of flux. While these ‘innovations’ are put forward as methods for public authorities to regain control over situations slipping away from them, the lack of memory also indicates the weakness of these public policies, trapped in the present by their contradictions.
The principle of this assistance is laid out in the European Directive ‘Reception Conditions’ (2003) and in the French Code for the Entry and Residence of Foreign Nationals and Asylum Seekers (CESEDA) (Basilien-Gainche & Slama, 2014). In 2016, the amount of the asylum seeker allowance (allocation de demandeur d’asile, ADA) was 6.80 euros per day for a single-person household, with a supplement of 4.20 euros for those without accommodation.
The study benefited from the support of the BABELS programme (French National Research Agency, ANR, Dir. Michel Agier) in Calais, and the LIMINAL programme (ANR, Dirs. Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirski and Alexandra Galitzine-Loumpet) in Paris. I would like to thank Aisling Healy and the anonymous reviewers of the journal for their comments, as well as the Institut Convergence Migrations for its support of this research.
The ‘Cold Weather Action Plan’ is a measure triggered by French local authorities in extreme winter temperatures to provide emergency accommodation to those without shelter.
In the French Code for Social Action and Families, articles L.345-2-2 and L.345-2-3.
Press release, 17 June 2015.
Field journal, May 2016.
For example, see Courau (2007).
Interview, Paris, December 2016.
OFPRA (2015) Activity Report, pp. 102–103.
Interview, Paris, December 2016.
Interview, Paris, September 2017.
In contrast, in the city of Grande-Synthe (on the coast near Dunkirk), the mayor wanted to ensure the provision of shelter for migrants camping in the municipality. When the central government refused, he requested the help of a humanitarian NGO, which co-funded the construction of a humanitarian camp (Muller & Neuman, 2016).
Assfam, Forum Réfugiés - Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, La Cimade & Ordre de Malte France (2016) 2015 report on administrative detention centres and facilities.
Instruction from the French Government from 9 November 2015 relating to the creation of shelters for migrants in Calais, Official Bulletin of the Ministry of the Interior, no. 2015-12.
Typically, the criterion of vulnerability determines priority in sheltering homeless people (Cefaï & Gardella, 2011).
On the issue of controlling information to avoid negative electoral consequences around offering legal status to undocumented migrants, see Casella Colombeau (2019).
Minutes of the steering committee, July 2016.
Conference at the National Museum of Immigration History, Paris, May 2018.
Interview, Villeurbanne, December 2017.
Interview, Calais, March 2016.
Field journal, Calais, March 2016.
Field journal, May 2016.
Field journal, February 2016.
Interview, Calais, May 2016.
Field journal, Calais, May 2016.
OFPRA (2017) Activity Report 2016. The change in the nationalities of asylum seekers in France reflects this ‘Calais effect’: while the nationalities present in Calais (Afghans, Sudanese, Eritreans, Iraqis) represented a small number of asylum applications in France before 2014, they were among the main nationalities seeking asylum in 2016.
Field journal, July 2016.
Interview, Calais, May 2017.
Field journal, October 2016.
The DNA includes Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers (CADAs) and emergency and temporary shelters, in a complex multi-layered administrative matrix (Slama, 2018).
French Law no. 2015-925 of 29 July 2015.
Created in the framework of the Migrant Emergency Plan in 2015, the CHUMs, specific to the Paris region, had a similar background as the CAOs, requisitioning places in or outside urban areas to relocate people living in camps.