Based on the 1951 Geneva Convention and the European directives on asylum, the French legal framework is enshrined in the Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum (Code de l’entrée, du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile) called CESEDA. Every person falling under the scope of Article 1 of the 1951 Convention or under the protection of the UNHCR should be granted refugee status according to Article L711-1 of the CESEDA. Further, if the person does not meet all the conditions for the refugee status but is facing a serious threat as mentioned above, s/he should receive subsidiary protection.
In seeking protection, fear of persecution should always be related to an ’oppressive‘ country which the person is fleeing. Protection is granted on the basis that the person cannot avail his/herself of the protection of the country in which s/he has nationality; when the person cannot avail his/herself of any nationality, the country of affiliation (pays de rattachement) – where the claimant is living – is considered. According to Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention, this subsidiary criterion can only be used if the person does not have a nationality. However, this notion should be understood broadly, as difficulties arise in determining nationality when claimants are not in possession of official travel or identity documents. The National Court for Right of Asylum (Cour nationale du droit d’asile, herein after the Court) may consider some claimants as de facto stateless in order to examine their application on the “country of affiliation” basis. However, de jure statelessness can only be determined by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA).
Regarding Palestinian refugees coming from Syria, France actually considers their request for asylum as a Syrian petition in accordance with the “country of affiliation” criterion. The Court takes into account that the Casablanca Protocol adopted by the Arab League in 1965 states that Palestinian refugees will not obtain the nationality of the host country in order to preserve the Palestinian people as an entity as well as their right of return. The Court also highlights that obtaining a Palestinian passport is contingent upon the actual residence in the territory administered by the Palestinian Authority. However, the Oslo Agreement excludes Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Palestinian refugees in exile from the ability to obtain a Palestinian travel document. So despite the Casablanca Protocol, and because of the absence of legal identity documents attesting to the Palestinian nationality of Palestinian refugees, the Court assumes that the applicant cannot rely on his/her nationality “of origin” to seek protection and will then examine the applicant’s status (fears) with regard to the country of affiliation, which in this case is Syria.
According to Eurostat, out of over 362,775 Syrian asylum applications in Europe in 2015, Germany received 158,655 (44 percent), Sweden 50,890 (14 percent), and France only 4,625, which represents 1.3 percent of the applications overall. According to the OFPRA, France has accepted 96 percent of the Syrian asylum applications it received that year, in comparison to 23 percent for all other nationalities.
Considering the high rate of granting protection, one question remains: why do so few refugees choose to apply for asylum in France? The answer may be due to the following:
- Refugee families, including Palestinians families from Syria, may prefer to apply for asylum in countries where the community is already established, such as Germany or Sweden.
- The so-called ‘Jungle de Calais’ (the former self-built ‘camp’ on the French northern coast), or the other self-built ‘camps’ in the streets of Paris have created a bad reputation for France in the matter of welcoming asylum seekers and migrants. Even if those camps were dismantled during the past year in order to relocate asylum seekers and migrants to ’reception centers,’ these centers lack adequate space to accommodate the numbers of refugees, forcing refugees and migrants to resettle in the street while waiting for an official asylum decision. France also lacks efficient integration programs for refugees.
- With the seventh highest unemployment rate in Europe (9.7 percent in October 2016), France does not seem to be an ideal place to start a new life as a refugee in Europe.
- To bypass the Dublin system and to be able to apply for asylum in countries away from the southern coast of Europe, some asylum seekers choose to travel by plane towards non-European countries with a transit in a European country, so as to deposit an asylum claim while in transit in Europe. In order to limit this practice France requires Palestinian refugees and Syrian nationals to apply for a difficult to obtain “airport transit visa” - in violation of the right of asylum, the 1951 Convention and the Chicago Convention. Without this visa, people would not be allowed to leave the plane and reach the international zone where they could claim asylum.
- Even if OFPRA has granted international protection to 96 percent of Syrians or Palestinians coming from Syria seeking protection, France is known amongst the refugee population for its lengthy asylum claims process. In 2015, OFPRA tried to improve its welcome policy in France by drastically reducing this length from more than 18 months to three months. However, it is hard to change a bad reputation when the bad living conditions persist. It remains difficult to submit an asylum claim in France: asylum seekers spend days in the so-called waiting zone in the airport waiting for the first appointment (registration of the asylum claim), and then have only 21 days after this registration to fill out the claim written in French - including a detailed description of their persecution - and send it to OFPRA.
Photo: Picture taken after the evacuation and destruction of the so-called “Jungle de Calais” camp