France takes in more EU asylum seekers than UK

France took in almost 12 percent of the EU’s asylum seekers in 2013, the third-highest number in the 28-member bloc, a new report has revealed. It follows earlier figures that showed France rejected far more applications for asylum than other EU countries.

France takes in more EU asylum seekers than UK
France takes in 12 percent of Europe's asylum seekers, much less than in Sweden, new figures have revealed. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

New stats released on Thursday revealed France was placed third in Europe's rankings when it came to the number of asylum seekers it granted protection to in 2013.

In 2013, France gave permission to 16,155 of the EU’s 135,700 asylum seekers, which amounted to 11.9 percent of all applications, according to a new report by the EU data agency Eurostat, putting it behind Sweden and then Germany in the rankings.

In 2013 France granted permission to more asylum seekers than the UK, where 13,400 were given the right to stay. In Spain only 555 asylum seekers were granted permission (see below for full table).

Of the 16,000 allowed to settle in France the largest group came from Russia – around 12 percent, followed by Sri Lankans and nationals from the Democratic Republic of Congo who accounted for nine percent of asylum seekers each.

The stats follow an earlier study released by Eurostat in March, in which France was found to have rejected 50,985 first instance decisions out of a total of 61,455 asylum cases in 2013.

Those figures provoked concern among some immigrants' rights groups in France.

“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.

In Thursday's figures from Eurostat, which analyzed both first instance and final decisions on asylum applications, Sweden, with its relatively small population of 9.5 million, was recorded as taking in the largest number of asylum seekers – 19.5 percent. 

Germany took in the second-highest number of asylum seekers with 26,080.

Altogether, the five member states of France, Sweden, Germany, Italy and the UK took in more than 70 percent of those granted protection status in the EU last year.

The total number of Europe's asylum seekers shot up from 116,200 in 2012 to 135,000 last year.

Despite the rise in immigration, the author of a new OECD report on immigration in Europe said in May that it was no longer even a significant phenomenon in France, especially when compared with other OECD countries.

“Contrary to what most people believe migration to France is fairly low,” Jean-Christophe Dumont, from the OECD’s International Migration Division told The Local. “Immigrants coming to France in 2012 represented only 0.4 percent of the population, which is much lower than the OECD average of around 0.8 percent.

The report came as the far-right former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested that the Ebola virus could solve the immigration problem in France.

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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.