At the end of 2003, France hosted some 34,900 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 25,100 pending cases at year's end and 9,800 individuals granted refugee status during the year

Asylum seekers submitted some 54,400 applications during the year. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Turkey (6,500), Congo-Kinshasa (4,700), China (4,600), and Russia (3,100).

The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) conferred refugee status on some, 6,500 individuals, out of some 66,300 decisions made on the merits of the case, an approval rate of almost 10 percent compared to, a 12 percent approval rate in 2002. The Refugee Appeals Commission (CCR) granted asylum to some 3,300 persons.

New Developments

The government passed laws in 2003, effective in 2004, drastically amending the Alien's Act. OFPRA will be the sole authority responsible for asylum claims, and CCR will be the sole appellate body. OFPRA must decide claims within two months, compared to two years previously. OFPRA will only grant two statuses, asylum to those who meet the UN Refugee Convention definition, or subsidiary protection allowing persons who do not meet the definition of refugee but face threats of the death penalty, torture or generalized violence residence in France for one year. Authorities can refuse to renew the subsidiary protection status based on ill-defined grounds of threat to public order, security, or state interest, or for having committed a serious offence. OFPRA may grant asylum to those persecuted by non-state actors if they risk capital punishment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or death as a result of international or national armed conflicts.

France will create a list of safe countries of origin – defined as states that respect human rights, rule of law, and democracy – from which asylum claims will normally be rejected. The government deems areas under international protection "safe zones" to which asylum seekers have an internal flight alternative. That is, international actors, such as the UN or states and "quasi-state" actors will be considered protectors. Critics claimed that such a restrictive interpretation does not afford genuine protection and that, under this legislation, Bosnian refugees from the UN safe haven of Srebrenica in 1990 would have been sent back to their death. Authorities could also exclude asylum seekers who could have obtained protection from organizations controlling a substantial part of their state of origin.

Asylum seekers will have 21 days to file an application in French. Those in detention must complete their application within five days. Officials will apply an accelerated procedure to those in detention who are from countries deemed safe, determining their claims within 15 days.

Officials may penalize individuals and corporate bodies, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), who "through direct or indirect aid facilitated or attempted to facilitate the entry, movement and irregular stay of a foreigner in France." The new law increases the penalty for this offence to up to 10 years imprisonment, from five years previously, increases the applicable fine from up to 30,000 Euros to up to 750,000 . The Minister of the Interior dismissed the fears of NGOs stating that the police would treat them with "great tolerance" but NGOs objected to being dependent upon the goodwill of the police to carry out humanitarian work.

In February authorities granted asylum on a collective basis to a group of 27 Turkish Kurds who had launched a hunger strike after authorities rejected their claims. The government stated that the decision was made on the basis of "new elements" without specifying what they were. Later in May, a group of 91 Turkish Kurds went on a hunger strike demanding collective asylum (35 had exhausted all appeals, 34 had pending claims, and 22 had not yet claimed asylum) as soon as possible. Another group of 21 Turkish Kurds ended their hunger strike in May when authorities agreed to re-examine their applications.

Two failed asylum seekers died within 12 days between December 2002 and January 2003, prompting French judges to prosecute police officers for manslaughter. Police had handcuffed the deportees and forced them to remain bowed and covered with a blanket before they died. The government agreed to allow the French Red Cross access to the waiting area of Roissey airport in Paris to give detainees humanitarian assistance.


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