Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 16:02 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - France

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - France , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 18 October 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 2002, France hosted about 27,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 25,000 cases still pending a decision at year's end and 2,600 individuals granted refugee status during the year.

Asylum seekers submitted 51,000 applications during the year, according to provisional statistics provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Turkey (6,600), Congo-Kinshasa (5,200), Mauritania (3,000), China (2,900), and Algeria (2,900).

The Refugee Appeals Commission (CRR) conferred refugee status on 2,600 individuals out of 21,700 decisions taken, a 12 percent approval rate. In 2001, about 30,000 persons requested territorial asylum in France, of which the Ministry of Interior made decisions on about 17,000, with an approval rate of 2 percent. Statistics were not available for 2002.

Asylum Procedures

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 – screens asylum seekers entering France, but detained asylum seekers must be brought before a judge if no decision is reached within four days. Applicants may appeal negative screening decisions, but this does not suspend removal.

Asylum seekers permitted to enter France receive an eight-day safe conduct pass. They must proceed to a préfecture (the local outpost of the Ministry of the Interior), which determines whether, under the provisions of the Dublin Convention, France should hear the claim. (See "Dublin Convention" box, p. 176.) 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 a list of safe countries of origin or travel in assessing asylum requests in the expedited process, they do use one in the cases of nationalities that fall under the Refugee Convention's cessation clause (Article 1C), which states that when the circumstances in the country of origin that caused them to be refugees no longer exist, they are no longer entitled to international protection. Negative decisions in the expedited procedure can be appealed, but this does not suspend removal.

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 took an average of seven months to issue a decision in 2002.

Asylum seekers may appeal negative OFPRA decisions to the 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 and this does not suspend removal.

OFPRA generally refuses to grant refugee status to victims of gender-specific and non-state persecution. However, officials have granted asylum to victims of non-state 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 rarely granted in the first instance. Such claimants usually obtain refugee status only after successfully appealing a negative decision by OFPRA.

Territorial Asylum

The Ministry of Interior may grant "territorial asylum" to victims of non-state persecution or other rejected asylum seekers at risk of torture as defined by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, or alternatively to individuals whose life or freedom is under threat in their country on account of threats of violence from non-state or state agents. When territorial asylum was introduced in 1998, it was intended to benefit mainly Algerian asylum seekers who feared persecution at the hands of Islamist radicals. While two-thirds of the applicants for territorial asylum have been Algerians, the acceptance rate for them is just as low as for other nationalities.

Unlike applicants for regular asylum, those requesting territorial asylum may not work and are not entitled to housing, meals, or pocket money. Applicants apply to their préfecture for territorial asylum, and then often wait for about one year before their application is sent to the French Ministry of the Interior. During this time, applicants are without authorization to stay in France.

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 for territorial asylum is, in theory, broader than that of the Convention, the government has not been noticeably more generous in granting it, despite its weaker rights and benefits.

Constitutional Asylum

The Interior Ministry may also grant "constitutional asylum" to individuals "persecuted because of their activities in support of freedom." The right to asylum on this basis is enshrined in the 1946 French Constitution, which states that, "every person persecuted on grounds of his action for freedom has a right to asylum within [France]." The requirements and benefits of constitutional asylum and regular asylum are virtually identical. In practice, very few people request constitutional asylum: only eight in 2001, according to UNHCR.

In September, the government announced plans to comprehensively revise its asylum law during 2003. The draft legislation included measures to centralize decision making on both convention and territorial asylum, to speed up decision making on asylum claims, to increase accommodation capacity, and to expel rejected applicants.

Detention, Deportation, and Repatriation

Refugee advocates claim that the French border police often fail to provide improperly 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 do not have access to their files. Appeal does not suspend deportation. The registration procedure can last from six to nine months, during which time asylum seekers have no legal status and receive no assistance.

In September, France signed a voluntary repatriation agreement with UNHCR and the Afghan government. Under the agreement, Afghans who return voluntarily receive a free flight and cash equivalent to $1,800 (2,000 euros). However, in November, CIMADE, a French non-governmental organization (NGO), said the French government violated the agreement by forcibly repatriating 12 Afghan asylum seekers apprehended near the border with Germany. The government responded that the group refused voluntary repatriation, that OFPRA had deemed the applicants' cases inadmissible, and that their rights to appeal did not suspend removal.

As of the beginning of 2002, Romanian nationals no longer needed entry visas to travel within the Schengen Area of Europe, including France, where a three-month stay is permitted for Romanians. On August 30, France signed a readmission agreement with Romania in response to child trafficking, prostitution, and organized begging among Romanians staying illegally in France. In December, French police detained some 60 Romanians after raiding settlements outside Paris, of whom 4 were later deported for staying illegally in France.

Travel to the United Kingdom

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 July, U.K. and French government officials agreed to toughen legal and security measures to prevent clandestine migration by way of the Channel Tunnel, through which thousands of undocumented migrants, including asylum seekers, travel each year to the United Kingdom.

Under the July agreement, France closed a Red Cross camp for asylum seekers in Sangatte, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais in December, and increased the number of border police in the area. UNHCR screened around 1,900 asylum seekers registered at Sangatte. The United Kingdom allowed legal entry to 1,200 of them, while some 130 applied for asylum in France. UNHCR reported that it found people in the center in poor physical and mental health, including a paralyzed Iraqi man, and a mother who had been tortured with three daughters. The majority of the estimated 67,000 to 70,000 people who were accommodated in Sangatte since its opening in September 1999 sought asylum in the United Kingdom, where persecution by non-state agents is recognized as a ground for asylum and public assistance to asylum seekers is more generous than France.

Reception and Integration

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

Convention refugees and those granted constitutional asylum may apply for family members to join them. Territorial asylees may not. They may, however, apply for family members on the same terms as other resident aliens, after two years of residence in the country.

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