At the end of 1997, France hosted about 16,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 3,443 individuals granted asylum and 1,793 relatives of refugees admitted to France during the year, approximately 7,400 Bosnians still in need of a durable solution, and about 2,500 Algerians with "territorial asylum." The French government did not provide the number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision at the end of 1997. Asylum seekers filed some 20,970 applications for asylum in France during 1997, a 21 percent increase from the 17,379 in 1996. The number of claimants filing in 1997 nevertheless represents a significant decrease from the 56,000 asylum applications filed in 1990. In October 1997, Human Rights Watch credited carrier sanctions and visa requirements with significantly reducing the number of asylum applicants arriving in France during the 1990s. In 1997, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Romania (22.6 percent), followed by China (7.8 percent), Sri Lanka (7.1 percent), Turkey (5.7 percent), and Congo/Zaire (5 percent). During 1997, French authorities issued decisions on some 23,942 applications, conferring refugee status in 3,443 cases, a 14.4 percent approval rate. Applicants from Laos had the highest approval rate (99 percent), followed by claimants from Vietnam (91 percent), Cambodia (77 percent), Iraq (40 percent), Sri Lanka (38 percent), and Bosnia (34 percent). France admitted another 1,793 relatives of recognized refugees under a family reunification program during the year. When socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin took office in March 1997, he promised to abrogate the more restrictive amendments to France's law on foreigners, known as the 1993 Pasqua laws. On June 24, the French government announced it would grant residence permits to certain categories of undocumented foreigners, mostly those with family ties in France. In the fall, the Jospin government submitted an immigration bill to parliament that, among other things, proposed consolidating the asylum laws, creating a legal basis for "territorial asylum" (temporary protection), and resurrecting an unused provision of the French constitution that would extend "constitutional asylum" to individuals persecuted because of their "activities in support of freedom." Nevertheless, the government's efforts met criticism from all sides. While human rights and refugee organizations criticized the proposed legislation for not going far enough to remedy what they saw as serious gaps in the French asylum system's ability to protect refugees, right-wing and ultra-nationalist politicians accused the government of opening the flood gates to uncontrolled migration. The immigration bill is expected to pass in 1998. Asylum Procedure The French asylum procedure is governed by the law on foreigners of November 2, 1945, modified and supplemented by various amendments and decrees. A 1952 law established the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), an autonomous body within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for adjudicating asylum claims. Asylum seekers may appeal negative OFPRA decisions to the Refugee Appeals Commission (CRR). Applicants may appeal CRR rejections to France's highest administrative court (the Conseil d'Etat), which may only consider questions of law. An appeal to the Conseil d'Etat will not automatically suspend an applicant's removal from French territory. Persons admitted into the regular asylum procedure receive a monthly social security allowance of about 1,400 French francs ($280); asylum seekers do not have the right to work. When a foreigner admitted into the country wishes to apply for asylum, or in cases where an asylum seeker has already entered France, either legally or illegally, he or she must proceed first to the local prefecture. In the normal procedure, the prefecture issues the person a one-month stay permit and provides an asylum application form. The individual must submit the form to OFPRA within one month, after which the applicant returns to the prefecture, which issues a three-month stay permit, renewable until the end of the determination procedure. OFPRA reportedly takes about two months to issue a decision on the merits of an asylum application. The prefecture also assesses the bona fide character of the application, employing European Union (EU) resolutions on manifestly unfounded applications. Legally, the prefecture is competent to decide whether an application is manifestly unfounded only in cases involving responsibility under the Schengen and Dublin Conventions (the Dublin Convention entered into force on September 1). In all other cases, OFPRA issues the final admissibility ruling. French legislation includes fraud as a criterion for declaring an application to be manifestly unfounded. If the prefecture rules an application inadmissible, instead of issuing a one month stay permit, it issues a deportation order, and detains the applicant. In an October 1997 report on asylum in France, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged that the prefectures sometimes obstruct access to the asylum procedure, particularly for insufficiently documented asylum seekers. Although OFPRA decides whether an applicant is admissible to the normal asylum procedure (except in Schengen/Dublin cases), the prefectures have undue influence in deciding if a case is manifestly unfounded, according to HRW. OFPRA concurred with 95 percent of the prefectures' recommendations to deny cases as manifestly unfounded, the HRW report said, adding that OFPRA only interviews about 10 percent of the cases denied as manifestly unfounded. OFPRA only interviews about half of the applicants considered under the normal asylum procedure. Agents of Persecution Both OFPRA and CRR (the appeals body) decisions have narrowly defined the interpretation of "agents of persecution." Officials responsible for both first- and second-instance decisions have recognized only persecution originating with, encouraged, or tolerated by state authorities, or de facto authorities. For example, France has recognized acts carried out by militia in Bosnia as persecution under the UN Refugee Convention, saying that such persecution derives from de facto authorities who have replaced legal authorities who do not control all the territory within their jurisdiction. However, OFPRA and CRR officials have not recognized persecution in situations where no national-level authority exists, as in Somalia. UNHCR has stated that this interpretation of agents of persecution "has no foundation in the 1951 [Refugee] Convention." Nevertheless, several CRR decisions in 1997 indicate a softening of its position on agents of persecution. While it had once insisted that Algerian applicants claiming persecution by Islamic militants in Algeria could avail themselves of the protection of the Algerian authorities, CRR granted asylum to several Algerian victims of non-state persecution in 1997. In these decisions, CRR admitted that it was unsure whether the Algerian government could, in fact, effectively protect the applicants concerned. Despite CRR's modest shift regarding agents of persecution, the overwhelming majority of Algerians are denied refugee status. Restrictive Measures Amendments to the law on foreigners enacted in July 1992 and December 1994 subject insufficiently documented asylum seekers arriving at border and entry points to a pre-screening procedure to determine whether to grant them permission to enter the territory to pursue their asylum claims. Pending a decision on their entry, such persons are held in "waiting zones" in French airports, harbors, and some railway stations open to international traffic. If a decision on admission does not occur within four days, the asylum seeker in question must be brought before a judge. An asylum seeker may not be held for more than 20 days in a waiting zone. Under this procedure, officers from OFPRA (within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) provide the Ministry of the Interior with an advisory opinion on the individual case. The Ministry of the Interior then decides whether the asylum seeker may enter France. Asylum seekers permitted to enter France receive a six-day "safe conduct" pass, allowing them to travel to a local prefecture to register their presence and request an asylum application form. The prefecture then conducts its own admissibility inquiry. If the Ministry of the Interior issues a nonadmission decision, the would-be asylum applicant may appeal, although the appeal does not suspend removal. The Ministry of the Interior may deny admission to the territory if an asylum seeker's request is manifestly unfounded. In 1997, however, no national legislation existed to define what constituted such claims. Therefore, officials simply applied the criteria laid down in the EU resolution on manifestly unfounded applications for asylum (adopted by the then-EC ministers responsible for immigration in November 1992). In practice, they issued nonadmission decisions in cases where they believed another state party to the Schengen or Dublin Conventions was responsible for reviewing an asylum claim, and where they believed the application to be fraudulent. Although the Conseil d'Etat ruled against using the safe third country concept to deny asylum seekers access to the French asylum procedure in December 1996 and March 1997, there were reports during 1997 that the Ministry of the Interior continued to consider transit through a safe third country en route to France as grounds to deny an asylum seeker's application as manifestly unfounded. Although the July 1992 amendment to the law on foreigners introduced limited due process and mandated access to legal and other assistance for asylum seekers in the waiting zones, HRW indicated in its October 1997 report that significant problems remained with the accelerated procedure. Border officials, according to HRW, do not always register the asylum seekers' claims, and information, translation services, and legal assistance are not always available in the waiting zones. Only five refugee organizations, including UNHCR, have access to the waiting zones, and may only visit each zone once in a three-month period. HRW reported that France quickly deports many asylum seekers given a negative admissibility decision despite outstanding appeals requests. Of the 1,010 asylum seekers who lodged their claims at the border during 1997, 72 percent were granted admission to French territory, an increase from 53 percent in 1996. Schengen and Dublin For most of 1997, France implemented the asylum provisions of the Schengen Convention, a multilateral agreement implemented in a subset of Western European countries, which established a mechanism for determining the state responsible for deciding an asylum claim. When the Dublin Convention became effective for the entire EU on September 1, however, it superseded the asylum provisions of the Schengen Convention. Generally, both conventions stipulate that the member state permitting the asylum seeker entry, or the member state of first arrival in the event of illegal entry, is responsible for reviewing the asylum application. Under the provisions of both the Schengen and Dublin Conventions during 1997, France petitioned other member states to assume responsibility for reviewing some 769 asylum applications. Of these, other member states agreed to review 341 applications, or 44 percent of the total. In contrast, other member states requested France to assume responsibility for reviewing 1,044 applications during the year, of which France agreed to review 831, or 79 percent of the total. Cessation of Refugee Status France invoked the cessation clause of the UN Refugee Convention, ending the refugee status of some 274 persons from Chile, 234 from Turkey, 115 from Haiti, 81 from Sri Lanka, 57 from Iran, and 54 from the present Yugoslavia in 1996, according to UNHCR. In an August 6, 1997 letter to the French government, USCR expressed its concern that these cessations could result in involuntary repatriation of persons who would likely be persecuted upon return. The cessation clause is limited essentially to a change of circumstances in the home country that would ensure an end to the refugees' fear of persecution, USCR pointed out. International standards require that these changes be durable. Yet "many of these countries from which these refugees fled," commented USCR, "such as Iran, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, still have significant human rights problems, such as persecution of religious and ethnic minorities." Algerians Because increasing numbers of Algerians have sought asylum, the French authorities have sought to limit a potentially larger influx by increasingly restricting its visa policy. Visas granted to Algerian nationals fell from 800,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 1997. Although it has recognized few Algerians as refugees, France granted territorial asylum‹a form of ad hoc temporary protection given to persons whose life or freedom would be endangered if returned to their country of origin‹to about 2,500 Algerians between January 1994 and July 1997. An estimated 4,800 Algerians also were granted residence permits under a June 24 government decision to allow certain undocumented foreigners in France to obtain legal status. France Terre d'Asile nevertheless termed these figures as "very low," implying the need to extend protection to far greater numbers. Algerians constitute a large, if not the largest, percentage of foreigners in detention pending deportation in France, France Terre d'Asile reported. They are also more likely actually to be deported. Of those Algerians held in a detention facility in Marseille during 1997, 84 percent were forcibly repatriated, compared with an average of 30 percent for detainees of other nationalities. Bosnians Of the 15,000 Bosnians admitted to France since 1992, about 5,000 have been granted asylum. The remainder received territorial asylum. UNHCR reported at the end of 1997 that about 7,400 Bosnians without a durable solution remained in France. France has pursued a policy of voluntary repatriation for Bosnians.

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