Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2016, 14:47 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - France

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - France , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 26 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, France hosted about 26,200 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. Included in this total are 5,185 individuals granted asylum in 2000 and an estimated 21,000 asylum seekers with pending applications at year's end.

Asylum seekers submitted 38,747 applications during the year, up about 25 percent from 1999. Most came from China (4,961), Turkey (3,597), Mali (2,931), and Congo-Kinshasa (2,901).

The number of asylum applicants in France has steadily increased since 1996. In 2000, France received the fifth most applications of all Western European countries (fifteenth relative to its population).

Asylum Procedure

The French border police detain insufficiently documented asylum seekers arriving at entry points, and pre-screen them to determine whether to allow them to enter the asylum procedure, or to return them to another state party to the Dublin Convention (see box, p. 198).

The decision to allow an asylum seeker to enter France rests with the Ministry of the Interior, advised by officials of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), an autonomous body within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The asylum seeker must be brought before a judge if no decision is reached within four days. Appealing negative pre-screening decisions is possible but does not suspend removal from the territory.

Asylum seekers permitted to enter France receive a six-day pass. They must proceed to a préfecture (the local outpost of the Ministry of the Interior), which determines admissibility under the provisions of the Dublin Convention. France has generally allowed family members to remain in France and apply for asylum together. OFPRA rules on the admissibility of cases not affected by the Dublin Convention.

France does not employ "safe country" criteria per se in assessing asylum requests. However, it does use an expedited procedure for manifestly unfounded applications, as well as for nationalities to which France has applied the UN Refugee Convention's cessation clause determining that conditions have sufficiently improved in the country of origin that refugees are no longer in need of international protection. Negative decisions in the expedited procedure can be appealed but have no suspensive effect.

After reaching a decision on admissibility, the préfecture either issues a deportation order and detains the applicant, or provides a one-month residence permit and an asylum application form. The individual has one month to submit the form to OFPRA, which is responsible for adjudicating cases on their merits. France offers free legal assistance only if the asylum seeker entered the country legally, which is usually not the case. OFPRA reportedly takes an average of one year to issue a decision. In recent years, OFPRA has interviewed fewer applicants in the asylum procedure – in 1999, only 37 percent.

Asylum seekers may appeal negative OFPRA decisions to the Refugee Appeals Commission (CRR). The CRR comprises three adjudicators representing the Conseil d'Etat (France's highest administrative court), OFPRA, and UNHCR. Applicants may appeal CRR rejections to the Conseil d'Etat, but only on procedural grounds. An appeal to the Conseil d'Etat does not have suspensive effect.

Legislation passed in 1998 formalized two ad hoc practices of non-Convention protection. The Ministry of the Interior can grant "territorial asylum" to foreigners whose rights are at risk under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and degrading treatment, or alternatively whose "life or freedom is under threat in their country." Territorial asylum confers temporary residence and work authorization.

Authorities can also grant "constitutional asylum" to individuals "persecuted because of their activities in support of freedom." The evidentiary requirements and benefits of constitutional asylum and asylum accorded on the basis of the Refugee Convention are virtually identical.

Restrictive Practices

Both OFPRA and CRR decisions have relied on a restrictive interpretation of the notion of "agents of persecution" in assessing Convention status applications. They recognize only persecution originating with, or tolerated by, state or de facto authorities. Based on this interpretation, France has rejected the claims of refugees fearing persecution at the hands of nonstate agents in countries such as Algeria. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) regards forced repatriation of persons whose lives or freedom would be threatened by nonstate agents to be refoulement.

In December 2000, the British Parliament determined France to be an unsafe country of return for asylum seekers because of its narrow interpretation of agents of persecution. UNHCR has stated that this interpretation, shared by only 5 of 138 signatory states, has no foundation in the UN Refugee Convention.

While the standard of persecution that territorial asylum applicants must prove is in theory lower than for Convention status, there has been no observable difference in practice even though the rights and benefits awarded are weaker.

In January 2000, the Conseil d'Etat canceled a number of restrictive elements in the territorial asylum procedure, including a rule that barred nationalities to which France has applied the Convention's cessation clause from receiving territorial asylum. In addition, the court decided that victims of state persecution were also entitled to apply for territorial asylum.

Detention and Deportation

Pending a pre-screening decision or repatriation, insufficiently documented persons arriving at ports of entry are held in one of 122 "waiting zones" for up to 20 days. UNHCR and selected nongovern mental organizations can visit these areas (in airports, harbors, and railway stations). Living conditions in waiting zones reportedly remained poor in 2000, in part because of the increase in the number of persons applying for asylum at France's ports of entry. A report made public in November cited sealed windows and unsanitary bedding as some of the poor conditions observed in waiting zones. Overcrowding has also become a serious problem; in September, authorities confirmed that the French police abandoned 45 migrants (including 13 children) in a field across the Belgian border to avoid taking responsibility for them.

In 2000, French officials began to crack down on undocumented asylum seekers entering the country on trains from Britain. Under a March Anglo-French agreement, French police at London's Waterloo Station were allowed to remove travelers who did not have proper travel documents.

France also stepped up its efforts to combat human trafficking after 56 Chinese migrants were found dead in the back of a truck at a British port in June 2000. The French government tripled the fines levied on transport companies found carrying illegal migrants. Holding the presidency of the European Union (EU) from July to December 2000, France sought to harmonize financial penalties on carriers of undocumented migrants within the EU; however, EU Member States were unable to agree on this proposal.

Reception and Integration

Asylum seekers in France are not permitted to work. Applicants are entitled to a one-time "waiting allowance" of about $275 (2,000 francs) per adult and $96 (700 francs) per child when they arrive in France. Those who do not reside in collective centers are entitled to a monthly allowance of about $248 (1,800 francs) for one year. Territorial asylum applicants receive neither accommodation nor social assistance.

Insufficient reception capacity remained an acute problem in France in 2000. By mid-2000, about 3,800 people were on waiting lists to move into reception centers.

Convention refugees and those granted constitutional asylum can exercise their right to family reunification. Beneficiaries of territorial asylum do not have this right. However, they can apply for family reunification on the same terms as other resident aliens, after two years of residence in the country.

Refugees from Yugoslavia

The French government stopped granting Kosovars a special six-month renewable residence permit in September 1999. The authorities allowed Kosovars to apply for asylum when their temporary residence permits expired. In 2000, 1,986 Yugoslav nationals filed claims.

An estimated 527 Kosovars repatriated to Kosovo during 2000, down from an estimated 2,500 in 1999. Upon return, they received modest financial assistance: $415 (3,000 francs) per adult and $138 (1,000 francs) per child.

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