Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2017, 17:26 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - France

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - France , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c1512c.html [accessed 25 May 2017]
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 2001, France hosted about 12,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,380 individuals granted refugee status during the year and approximately 10,000 cases still pending a decision at year's end.

Asylum seekers submitted an estimated 47,260 applications during the year. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from China (2,953), Turkey (5,344), Congo-Kinshasa (3,779), Mali (2,937), and Sri Lanka (1,997).

The Appeals Commission conferred refugee status on 2,380 individuals out of 22,090 decisions taken, an 11 percent approval rate. An estimated 14,000 to 15,000 persons requested territorial asylum in France in 2001, with an approval rate of 3 percent.

Asylum Procedures

The decision to allow an asylum seeker to enter France rests with the Ministry of the Interior, advised by the 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 (see box, p. 190). 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 uses an expedited procedure for manifestly unfounded applications. Although authorities do not employ "safe country" criteria per se in assessing asylum requests, they use the expedited procedure for nationalities that fall under the UN Refugee Convention's cessation clause, which states that when conditions have sufficiently improved in the country of origin, 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.

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 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (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.

OFPRA generally refuses to grant refugee status to victims of gender-specific and nonstate persecution. However, officials have granted asylum to victims of nonstate agents where the persecution is encouraged or deliberately tolerated by the authorities so that the party concerned cannot effectively claim the latter's protection. Nevertheless, such cases are more the exception than the rule and the victims usually obtain refugee status only after successfully appealing a negative decision by OFPRA.

The Ministry of Interior may grant "territorial asylum" to victims of nonstate persecution or other rejected asylum seekers whose rights are at risk under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and degrading treatment, or alternatively to individuals whose "life or freedom is under threat in their country." When territorial asylum was introduced, it was intended to benefit mainly Algerian asylum seekers who feared persecution at the hands of Islamic radicals. While two-thirds of the applicants for territorial asylum have been Algerians, the acceptance rate for this category is just as low as for other nationalities.

Unlike applicants for UN Refugee Convention status, those requesting territorial asylum are not entitled to accommodation, meals, or pocket money. They are also barred from working, which exposes them to exploitation and low pay by unscrupulous employers. The rare successful applicants receive a one-year residence permit, renewable twice. After three years, the holder is entitled to apply for permanent residence status. Territorial asylum has been granted so restrictively that the National Consultative Committee for Human Rights has called for its suppression as a status distinct from that of the 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.

The Interior Ministry may 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.

Detention and Deportation

Refugee advocates claim that the French border police often fail to provide insufficiently documented foreigners with asylum forms or information on their rights. Foreigners denied entry into France may be kept in so-called "waiting zones" or remand centers for up to 20 days pending their removal, although holding a person in a "waiting zone" for more than four days requires the approval of a judge. Interpretation facilities in the "waiting zones" are poor, and asylum applicants have no access to their own files. Deportation orders for rejected asylum claimants are not suspended pending appeals. Long delays often occur in the registration procedure, which can last from six to nine months. During this time asylum seekers have no legal status and receive no material assistance.

Illegal Migration

Since 2000, French officials have increased efforts to prevent undocumented asylum seekers from entering the country on trains from Britain. Under a March 2001 Anglo-French agreement, French police at London's Waterloo Station have been allowed to remove travelers who did not have proper travel documents.

In September, U.K. and French government officials agreed to toughen legal and security measures to prevent clandestine migration via the Channel Tunnel, through which thousands of illegal migrants, including asylum seekers, travel each year to the United Kingdom. Many asylum seekers prefer to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom, where persecution by nonstate agents can be considered grounds for asylum, unlike in France.

The U.K. government and the Eurotunnel company complained during the year that a Red Cross camp for asylum seekers in Sangatte, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, had become a magnet for illegal migrants who used the camp as a point of departure in order to stow away on cross-Channel trains. On December 25, some 500 asylum seekers attempted to storm the tunnel to walk to England through the 31-mile-long (50 km) passage. The overcrowded center was also the scene of several violent confrontations between residents during the year. The Eurotunnel company applied for an emergency injunction to close the center, but a French court rejected the application in September.

Plans to establish a second Red Cross reception center for irregular migrants, in addition to the one in Sangatte, were cancelled on November 7.

On February 17, a Cambodian-registered freighter, the East Sea, ran aground off Saint Raphael on the French Riviera, carrying more than 900 people, mostly Kurds from Iraq. The Kurds, who claimed to have been persecuted in Iraq, had been abandoned by human traffickers. Almost all of the 908 asylum seekers were believed to be from the Iraqi towns of Mosul and Kirkuk – towns from which the Baghdad authorities were forcibly expelling Kurds in an "Arabization" campaign. French interior ministry officials sent a circular to France's regional governors authorizing them to accept asylum requests from any Kurds who turned up even after their permission to be in France had expired. Those who were caught but refused to file an application were required to leave France, according to the circular.

Reception and Integration

Asylum seekers in France are not permitted to work. Applicants are entitled to a one-time "waiting allowance" of about $271 (305 euros) per adult and $95 (107 euros) per child when they arrive in France. Those who do not reside in collective centers are entitled to a monthly allowance of about $244 (274 euros) for one year. Territorial asylum applicants receive neither accommodation nor social assistance.

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 may apply for family reunification on the same terms as other resident aliens, after two years of residence in the country. Insufficient reception capacity remained an acute problem in France in 2001.

Post-September 11 Developments

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, a number of mayors from different French municipalities announced that they would no longer issue "certificates of welcome," the papers required to show that a potential visitor requesting a visa has a place to stay. Most of the requests for the certificates come from neighborhoods inhabited by poor Muslims of North African origin. On October 19 the Conseil d'Etat, rejected an application to compel authorities to resume issuing certificates of welcome. The terrorist attacks heightened suspicion and fear of immigrants in France, host to Europe's largest concentration of Muslims – approximately 4.5 million. Even before September 11, France had an uneasy relationship with its Muslims, most from former North African colonies who have long complained of marginalization and discrimination.

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