France recently passed a reform to its immigration law for refugees & asylum seekers. This change will have significant impact on processing times for asylum seeker applications and the rights of asylum seekers in the application process.
Migreat asked Lou-Salomé Sorlin, French immigration expert on asylum cases to tell us more about the current process and what the new rules mean for asylum seekers currently in France or interested to look for asylum in France.
The Asylum Process in France
[MG] What is the process by which an immigrant can start applying for French refugee status?
[LSS] It depends on where you apply from.
[MG] How about applying from outside France?
[LSS] People can apply for a long term visa on the grounds that they are looking for asylum in France (visa de long séjour délivré au titre de l’Asile) at a French embassy outside of France. Even though most applications are rejected, it is an option to consider if someone has a strong case to prove (official documents, solid proof that they have suffered (or fear) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a group or political opinion). [If denied] people can contest the refusal of the visa at the Tribunal Administratif Nantes.
[MG] How about applying from within France?
[LSS] If already in France, asylum seekers must apply by visiting the Prefecture, the regional institution representing the French State in each of France’s regions, with the right documents in hand. At the Prefecture, each person will be given a form to fill out to go along with that person’s administrative documents. Additionally, the applicant’s biometric data will be taken – to verify that they have not already claimed asylum in another European country.
Start the process as soon as possible, as it takes on average one to two years to be granted refugee status in France.
[MG] Who is eligible to apply for asylum in France?
[LSS] Applying for asylum in France is a two steps process, where one has to register to the Prefecture before being granted the right to apply to asylum.
Unless the prefecture finds out that:
- The applicant has entered Europe from another country or has already applied for asylum in another EU country (Dublin Ruling);
- Applied for asylum in another EU country;
- Are from a country listed as a safe country free from persecution by the CNDA;
- Are a threat to French Government or society; and/or have major criminal record;
The prefecture will then issue a temporary authorisation to reside in France (APS) within a maximum of 15 days after the applicant’s visit, allowing them the right to reside in France for a month renewable and apply for asylum within the next 21 days.
If the prefecture refuses the right to stay in France on one of the grounds quoted above – and so refuses the right for the applicant to apply for asylum to the OFPRA, a person’s options to apply to asylum in France are restricted. If the reason for refusal is because of the application being handled by another EU country (Dublin II ruling), the applicant is not allowed to apply for asylum in France at this stage. If the transfer to the country responsible has not happened in the next six months, France becomes then responsible of the asylum seeker’s application.
Advice for asylum seekers when applying
[MG] How can a genuine refugee successfully obtain and be granted refugee status in France?
[LSS] At the prefecture, a person must make sure their application is complete, that nothing is missing. Note that people can apply without ID documents if they do not have them; documents related to how you entered France can come in many formats (flight tickets, visas, etc); finally, if the applicant does not have a proof of residence, migrant associations may be able to provide the person with one.
When the applicant receives the APS from the prefecture, they should start working on their application to OFPRA (l’Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides) with the help of French migrant associations and/or lawyers. Refugees should know that they can access the services of free lawyers and free support from migrant associations when at the stage of court proceedings. As much as possible make use of people with knowledge.
[MG] What’s an application look like? How can someone be successful at it?
[LSS] The asylum application must be filled out and written in French. The OFPRA form has to be filled out completely – without any gaps. Applicants must explain in details their personal situation and their family’s situation.
The applicant needs to articulate strongly the reason why he/she is fleeing his/her country and the reasons why they can’t go back – reasons that are clearly relevant to what defines a refugee: someone, owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,who is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country;someone, owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,who is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. It is important to know that the application information is confidential. None of the information provided in the application will ever be communicated to the country of origin.
It is strongly recommended that an applicant keep a copy of all and any documents provided with the application. All documents that support the personal and family details as well as prove the reasons why the applicant is eligible for refugee status. The more documents, if relevant, the better. Documents supporting the story that a person has suffered (or fears) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a certain social group or political opinion in their country of origin.
[MG] What more can you tell us about the interview with the OFPRA?
[LSS] It is very rare for an applicant to be granted asylum successfully without having to pass an interview with the OFPRA. As such, it is strongly recommended to prepare for it and if possible with people knowledgeable about the process and/or with their story. The new legislation makes it easier for an expert, lawyer or representative of a migrant organisation to assist the asylum seeker during the interview with OFPRA’s “officier de protection” – even to make it possible for an advisor to participate through a videoconference.
The interview is performed in the language the applicant prefers and that the applicant has mentioned on the application form. As such, it is important for the applicant to choose the language he/she feels most comfortable with. Again, it is important to mention that the interview is confidential.
Data on Asylum Seekers in France
Out of approximately 66,000 asylum seeker applications in 2014 in France, 16% were approved by the OPFRA – and 27% in total after appeal is made to the Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile (CNDA).
Last January 2011, the EU court of Human rights ruled and fined Belgium and Greece for degrading and inhuman treatment of asylum seekers. Since then, many European countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK have stopped transferring asylum seekers back to Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
[MG] What are the options and rights for asylum seekers in France refused the right to apply to asylum in France on the ground that another EU country is responsible of their asylum case?
[LSS] An asylum seeker can contest the procedure of deportation to the another EU country with a lawyer if they have valid grounds to contest it. France and the asylum seeker have 6 months maximum to make a decision on the case. After 6 months, if the asylum seeker is not sent back to the other EU country, France may become responsible and the individual can proceed to an asylum seeking application in France.
[MG] The legal process can fail asylum seekers non familiar with administrative papers and procedures. Can you tell us a little more on the common administrative challenges?
[LSS] The process is long. On average it takes 16 months to be granted refugee status in France. The new legislation aims to reduce this process to 9 months maximum by 2017. The new legislation grants the right to work to asylum seekers after 9 months even if no decision has been taken on their application by the OFPRA. This said, in practice, employers are reluctant to employ asylum seekers without confirmation of their right to stay in France legally; and immigration rules are making it more difficult to recruit a foreigner on the grounds that employers should first look for local talent.
The administration often asks for documents and evidence that are difficult for asylum seekers to provide. It is expected that the applicant provide as many details as possible about the cause of their departure from their country, the circumstances around how it happened, the risks and persecutions he/she could potentially be subjected to if they were sent back to their country without any questions from the judges or administrators. The in person interview follows less the format of an interview than a presentation exercise where the applicant must convince officials who often have little knowledge or access to information on the situation or the cultural and political background of the applicant. For applicants, it is essential to gather as much information and to prepare as much possible for the interview with the help of trustworthy people.
The process requires knowledge of the administrative system. There are options to appeal that are not known by asylum seekers. It requires an expert or legal advisor to best understand and navigate what can look like an obscure system for applicants. A little knowledge can actually be worse than no knowledge at all – and lots of people say lots of confusing things. Applicants would benefit from looking for advice from migrant organisations and/or lawyer networks. Taking French language classes ahead of the interview or while waiting for the decision, makes it significantly easier to get familiar and feel comfortable with the process. Also, it helps that if after 9 months no decision has been taken, to find a job.
[MG] The statistics states that a large number of applicants are being granted refugee status after appeal to the CNDA. There is also a general perception that France is more welcoming to refugees than some other EU countries?
[LSS] Indeed, the right to asylum is stated in the French constitution – it is one principle of its Republic. The Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile (CNDA) is the result of this commitment and guarantee of the right. It is the first court in terms of number of request and appeals per year.
When an applicant is refused the right to asylum by the OFPRA, he/she can appeal to the CNDA. This time a translator and lawyer are provided automatically. More than a quarter of appeals to the CNDA resulted in the cancellation of the decision to refuse asylum by the OFPRA.
Also, for humanitarian reasons, asylum seekers are not detained systematically – and the refugee status is granted for ten years, and is easily renewed. A travel document is provided to any refugee that wants to leave France. Family reunification is possible and access to French Citizenship is made faster for refugees: it is granted immediately without the need to have resided 5 years in France (but with the need to fill out all other requirements).
You can ask further details to Migreat expert and author of this article, Lou-Salomé Sorlin, lawyer in France specialised in refugee law and immigration law (focus on asylum applications – Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc.; advocacy; risks of detention, expulsion and extradition).
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