FECL 42 (March 1996):
Human rights organisations have nicknamed the most recent figures published by the Foreign Ministry the "December miracle". Indeed, official figures for the first 11 months of 1995 indicated that the number of asylum applications in France had decreased by almost a quarter last year and that only 2,845 applicants had actually been granted refugee status by the end of November, as against 7,025 in the whole of 1994. This indicated a recognition quota of less than 12 per cent for 1995, as against almost 24 per cent in 1994.
According to OFPRA, the French Office for the Recognition of Refugees, the apparent gap is due to imperfections of the current system of statistical registration. But this explanation has failed to convince refugee organisations. A representative for France Terre d'Asile said it was "astonishing to see an additional 2000 refugees hopping out of the hat". The NGOs stress that while legislation in other European states provides for various forms of refugee status, France offers protection to refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention only. Consequently, Spain and Britain granted protection to more than 20 per cent of the applicants. Be it 11.5 per cent or 16.2 per cent, as now claimed by OFPRA, the French recognition quota is considerably lower.
A country by country assessment of the figures tends to further confirm refugee organisations' allegations of a clamp-down on the right of asylum. Thus, of the 2,854 positive asylum decisions within the first 11 months of 1995, almost 1000 concerned children of South-East Asian refugees who are automatically eligible for asylum at the age of 18. Thus, the share of asylum seekers from all other countries actually amounted to less than 2,000 positive decisions.
Refugees from civil wars and civil unrest have hardly any chance of obtaining protection in France. Thus, only 7 per cent of Somali applicants were granted asylum. In many cases, applications of Somalis were not turned down due to a lack of evidence of persecution but due to the character of the persecution claimed. According to restrictive French interpretation, the term "refugee" in the Geneva Convention applies only to victims of persecution emanating from state authorities [In the meantime, the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council has agreed a Joint Position on the definition of "refugee" adopting this French (and German) interpretation; see FECL No.39: "Joint Position on a common definition of the term 'refugee'"]. In Somalia, persecution is linked to the " prevailing generalised climate of anarchy" in this country, OFPRA says. In the absence of any real state authority, there can not be any "persecutions emanating from the country's authorities", the agency concludes.
OFPRA was even more severe with the 107 asylum seekers from Liberia. All applications were turned down. As for Algeria, another country torn by internal violence, only 0.7 per cent of a total of 2,208 applicants were granted asylum.
The official view is that the collapse of the number of asylum seekers proves the effectiveness of French measures against "asylum abuse" by "bogus refugees" - i.e. economic migrants.
This analysis is, however, demolished by a recent study published by Luc Legoux, a teacher at the Institute of Demography of the Paris-I university. Had only "bogus refugees" been dissuaded from seeking asylum in France, Legoux argues, the general recognition rate for refugees logically should have increased by the same proportion as the number of applications dropped. Based on a year by year analysis of asylum decisions, the researcher comes to the conclusion that the notorious "dissuasive measures" mainly affected "perfectly well-founded asylum applications" and actually conceal a clear hardening of admission criteria.
Source: Le Monde, 27.2.96, 1.3.96.