Migrant Lives

When Undocumented Immigrants Are Underage

Like other countries, France faces a rising number of young people who arrive illegally into the country, without their parents or other family members. It poses unique questions.

When Undocumented Immigrants Are Underage
Elise Vincent

AMIENS - In this French city, an hour north of Paris, the issue of underage undocumented immigrants has found a temporary solution, behind the discreet façade of a bourgeois house near the train station.

In this building, which looks like a guesthouse, the France Terre d’Asile organization (“France Land of Asylum”) started providing housing to 20 young undocumented immigrants last January. They are from Congo, Sudan or Guinea, and all of them arrived here alone, without parents, in the “little Venice of the North” as Amiens is called.

This type of structure is not very common in France, but has been multiplying lately, due to a steady increase in the number of undocumented teenagers over the past 20 years. On a national scale, between 6,000 and 8,000 undocumented minors are in the care of local authorities, who are not always equipped for such a task.

This situation has become financially unmanageable in areas where there are a big number of young refugees. Local authorities are legally bound to take care of them – this obligation has raised such difficulties that the government recently published a circular on the subject. From now on, the state will provide enough financial help to local authorities to cover the costs during the first days of care.

An ideal home

In Amiens like everywhere else, a young undocumented immigrant costs around 250 euros a day to the city. The total amounts to 8.5 million euros a year. The challenge is a financial one, but also a logistic one: in the Somme department, where Amiens is located, as in many others, the child welfare services (ASE) do not have enough beds in group homes. Recently, some young refugees had to be accommodated in hotels.

The France Terre d’Asile group home is subsidized by the local government. It took some pressure off the local welfare services by taking care of the material needs of these teenagers. Here, they sleep in neat dormitories of three or four beds. They are kept busy with French lessons, socio-educational workshops, cultural activities and sports. They also receive legal aid.

You can hear teenagers laughing in the house, obviously happy to have landed here. However, this ideal home, with old wooden floors, moldings on the ceiling and a housekeeper, might not be enough. In 2000, there were only five undocumented immigrant minors in Amiens. Since 2011, there is a 100 of them coming every year.

Getting a residence permit

Why these young asylum seekers came here remains unclear. Most of them say they don’t have any contact with their parents. It is the case of Brigette, an elegant teenager with long dark hair from Congo who says she is 17 years old. She says she “took a flight” from Congo Kinshasa to Paris. She got there on January 20, and says that “a woman” took her to a train station and told her to go to Amiens.

At first, she stayed in a shelter home for girls in difficult situations. Then she was sent to France Terre d’Asile when they opened their group home. “I feel much better here”, she says. Brigette likes “computer science” and would like to stay in France to “study and become a secretary.”

Such fragmented and timid accounts of their past is common among undocumented minors. Some of them have painful life stories. Many of them say they are “orphans” or have “no contact anymore” with their relatives. Most of the time, they were actually sent here by their parents. Even if they do not always admit it, their goal is often to be taken care of until they reach their majority, be able to study and then get a residence permit in order to bring their family over under the family reunification program. If a teenager enters France before turning 16, he or she also has more chances of being granted French nationality.

Two teenagers caught trying to sneak into Britain (UK Home Office)

At the Central Office for the Repression of Illegal Immigration and Employment of Undocumented Workers (OCRIEST), officials admit they do not really control this phenomenon. According to its director Julien Gentile, only “around ten” of these illegal migration channels have been dismantled since 2011. When they come from Africa, most of these young people get to France by plane, using fake IDs. When they come from the Middle East, they take the traditional route through Turkey or Greece. “Everything is organized outside of France,” Gentile explains.

In France, most of these teenagers come from French-speaking or Portuguese-speaking Africa, or from Afghanistan. They are mostly male. But there are also girls, sometimes pregnant. They often come from modest backgrounds, but some of them are from “bourgeois families in countries at war,” says Gentile. Families are making a “double” bet: “They want to protect their kid, and to get a foothold in a country where they could flee in case the political situation gets worse.”

With its new circular, the French government is also trying to solve the issue of geographic “distribution” of these teenagers. Most of them arrive in Seine-Saint-Denis, in Paris’ northern suburbs (they were 800 in 2012), in Paris (1800 in 2012), or in the western department of Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany (400). Departments located near borders come next, with around 200 teenagers every year. The government’s plan consists in identifying these minors and having them move to parts of the country where local authorities are not as overburdened, and could deal with them more easily.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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