France rejects four out of five asylum seekers

France turned down 83 percent of asylum cases last year - a far higher rate than other European countries, new figures revealed this week. Asylum-seeker rights groups in France have expressed their concern.

France rejects four out of five asylum seekers
France rejected almost 83 percent of asylum seekers based on decisions made in 2013.Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In 2013 France looked at 61,455 asylum cases but only granted protection to 10,470 of those seeking sanctuary in the country, according to new figures from the EU’s Eurostat agency released on Monday. Most of those were granted refugee status, with a small number given a lesser “subsidiary protection”.

That’s an acceptance rate of just 17 percent, which compares unfavourably with the Europe-wide average of 34 percent for first-instance decisions, which asylum seekers have the chance of overturning on appeal.

In Germany, where 76,165 decisions were made on asylum last year, the percentage of those accepted stood at 26.5 percent and in the UK 38 percent of 22,340 asylum cases were granted protection. Italy gave protection in 64 percent of cases and Sweden granted some kind of asylum in 54 percent of the 45,000 cases ruled on.

The low number of positive outcomes in France has concerned certain rights groups.

“Yes it’s a problem. We are worried by why it is so low compared to other European countries,” said Matthieu Tardis , the head of the general secretariat of France Terre D’Asile a leading non-profit organization which provides “legal and social services” to asylum seekers and refugees in France.

Tardis told The Local there were various reasons why France accepts fewer asylum seekers on average than other countries, one of which is regularly put forward by the government.

“The reason always given by the Ministry of Interior is that France does not receive applications from what they deem ‘good’ countries, for example countries ravaged by war like Syria or Afghanistan,” he said.

Figures show that most of those seeking asylum in France come from Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and then Albania, whereas other countries like Germany count Syrians among the top three applicants. In Britain, Pakistanis made up the largest number of applicants followed by Iranians and then Sri Lankans.

“The government is always telling us we don’t receive the same kind of applications as other countries in Europe. There may be some truth in that.

“For example, in France we only had 1,300 asylum seekers from Syria, which is not many considering what’s going on there. On the other hand we used to get a lot of applications from Albania, but they were often not well put together,” he said.

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For Tardis and France Terre d’Asile there are other explanations for the low number of cases accepted, that perhaps the government is less willing to accept.

“There is a lack of resources. I think those making the decisions in the first instance have to rule on two cases a day. That's difficult. So the decision-making process is often poor.

“There is also a problem with a lack of accommodation for asylum seekers. We only have space for 22,000 people and we had 65,000 applications last year. This is becoming more and more serious.

“If you have accommodation you have a higher chance of having your application accepted because you have access to legal assistance and you are not having to worry about where you sleep every night and where you are going to get your next meal.”

Eurostat figures revealed that across Europe as a whole there were almost 435,000 asylum applications registered last year.

That represents a dramatic increase on the 335,000 requests made in the previous year.

Of the applications made last year 127,000 were to Germany, (29 percent) 65,000 to France (15 percent), 54,000 to Sweden and 30,000 to the UK (7 percent).

Syrians and Russians accounted for nearly a quarter of all asylum seekers to Europe’s 28 nations.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.