Throughout the asylum procedure, OFPRA is competent for adopting specific procedural safeguards pertaining to an asylum seeker’s specific needs or vulnerability.
Adequate support during the interview
The Ceseda does not define the notion of “adequate support” contained in Article 24(3) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive. However, specific procedural safeguards relating to the interview include:
- The presence of a third person during the interview with the OFPRA protection officer. Even though this provision does not specifically concern vulnerable applicants, it can be particularly relevant and useful for these categories of asylum seekers;
- The possibility for an asylum seeker to ask that the interview be conducted by a protection officer and with an interpreter from a specific gender. This request has to be motivated and manifestly founded by the difficulty to express the grounds for his or her claim in presence of people from a certain gender (especially in situations of sexual violence);
- The presence of a mental health professional for asylum seekers suffering from severe mental disease or disorder.
The law maintains the possibility for the asylum seeker to request a closed-door audience with the CNDA. This decision can also be taken by the President of the court session if circumstances so require.
OFPRA has set up 5 thematic groups (groupes de référents thématiques) of about 20-30 staff each, covering the following elements: sexual orientation and gender identity; unaccompanied children; torture; trafficking in human beings; and violence against women. The thematic groups follow internal guidelines developed by the référents and revised every year. OFPRA has also established a position of Head of Mission – Vulnerability as of 2016.
These officials follow specialised training on the specific issues they deal with:
- Officers dealing with claims from unaccompanied children must be specifically trained on this matter. They are trained on the particularities of asylum claims lodged by young individuals and also have to attend a mandatory training on techniques for collecting personal stories, using the EASO training module on Interviewing Children;
- A protection officer may interview an applicant presenting other vulnerabilities. In such cases, officers are trained based on internal training packs which refer to external sources e.g. TRACKS project or GRETA report for victims of trafficking.
- From 2013 to 2018, Forum réfugiés – Cosi and the Belgian NGO Ulysse have conducted several 2-day trainings for OFPRA protection officers on victims of torture with two main objectives: helping them to take into account the difficulties asylum seekers may face when they have to share their story after traumatic events and providing tools to protection officers for handling these situations.
It is unknown whether additional trainings were conducted throughout 2020.
In addition, OFPRA staff is trained on issues related to testimonies recounting painful events during the interview process. It is particularly important as the lack of sensitive approaches to vulnerable applicants has had further negative consequences. For instance, it means that no special precautions are taken in the formulation of a negative answer. According to a social worker from Forum réfugiés – Cosi, for instance, some negative decisions mention the fact that the claimant had shown no emotion when recalling the rape she had been subjected to or that the claimant seemed distant from the recollection of the abuses she was describing. Asylum seekers can be extremely hurt when they see such comments in the summary of their interviews.
According to a recent report by the Quality Council, OFPRA has marked notable improvements in terms of sensitivity and professionalism vis-à-vis asylum claims lodged by women. In addition, by the end of 2019, more than 9,000 were under OFPRA protection on grounds of risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).
In 2019, Forum refugies-Cosi further organised trainings for 37 employees of the CNDA, focusing on interviews in which painful stories and experiences are being shared. No further trainings were organised in 2020.
Prioritisation and exemption from special procedures
OFPRA can decide to prioritise the processing of a claim from a vulnerable applicant having special reception or procedural needs.
Similarly, OFPRA can decide not to process the claim under the Accelerated Procedure on the basis of vulnerability or the specific needs of the applicant. Yet, no more than 24 claims (0.06%) were exempted from the accelerated procedure out of a total of 37,759 claims accelerated in 2018. An improvement was noted in 2019, when OFPRA rechannelled 206 cases into the regular procedure out of a total of 40,677 cases processed in the accelerated procedure. More recent statistics on the year 2020 were not available at the time of writing of this report.
In addition, three grounds for placing an asylum seeker under the accelerated procedure may not applied to unaccompanied children: (a) use of false identity or travel documents or false information; (b) reasons unrelated to international protection; and (c) manifestly contradictory or incoherent information, or statements that are clearly contradicted by country of origin information.
Exemption from the border procedure
Similarly in the Border Procedure, OFPRA can consider that an asylum seeker in a waiting zone requires specific procedural safeguards and thus terminate the detention. However, the law does not completely forbid the examination of vulnerable asylum seekers’ claims under border procedures.
Unaccompanied children are also subject to the border procedure in waiting zones, albeit in a more restrictive way than adults. According to the law, an unaccompanied child can be held in a waiting zone only under exceptional circumstances listed in the law:
- The unaccompanied child originates from a Safe Country of Origin;
- The unaccompanied child introduces a subsequent application deemed inadmissible;
- The asylum claim is based on falsified identity or travel documents; or
- The presence of the unaccompanied minor in France constitutes a serious threat to public order, public safety or national security.
In practice, since the majority of unaccompanied children arriving at the border hold false documents, the criterion of falsified identity or travel documents is widely applied as ground to conduct a border procedure for this category of asylum seekers. While 71.2% of unaccompanied minors were granted entry in 2019, this number was low as 51.6% in 2018; 24.3% in 2016 and 37% in 2015. This means that in 2018, nearly half of all unaccompanied minors making an asylum claim at the border were refused access to the territory; a situation that applied to 3 in 4 unaccompanied minors in 2016 and to the large majority of them in 2015. This raises important concerns, taking into consideration that the border procedure should in principle only be applied exceptionally to unaccompanied minors.
The OFPRA further developed a system for the signalling of vulnerabilities in waiting zones. Any person authorised to be present in waiting zones, including the NGOs accredited to that effect, can alert OFPRA of the existence of vulnerabilities through a functional email address. When a person is identified as vulnerable during the border procedure, the OFPRA may request his/her release from the waiting zones. This is marginally used in practice, as only a few referrals were made in recent years and because of the limited presence of NGOs (see legal assistance). In 2016, only 5 persons have been released from the waiting zones due to their vulnerability; and none in 2017.
Overall, given the tight deadlines of the border procedure, which require OFPRA to issue an opinion to the Ministry of Interior within two working days, it is unlikely that vulnerable asylum seekers are able to benefit from “sufficient time” to put forward their claim. Moreover, practice suggests that applicants are not released from waiting zones, even in cases where their vulnerability is reported by NGOs. For example, there has been a case where the vulnerability of an 8-months pregnant woman was reported by Anafé to the OFPRA, but she continued to be held in the transit zone. She further had to stand for an hour during the interview, as the latter was conducted through a wall mounted telephone.
 Article L.723-3 Ceseda.
 Article L.723-6 Ceseda.
 Article L.733-1-1 Ceseda.
 OFPRA, 2016 Activity report, 28.
 Haut-Conseil à l’Egalité, Situation des femmes demandeuses d’asile en France après l’adoption de la loi portant réforme du droit d’asile, 18 December 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2mWvoBM, 25.
 OFPRA, 2018 Activity report, 21
 OFPRA, 2019 Activity report, 22
 Article L.723-2(4) Ceseda.
 Article L.213-9 Ceseda.
 For detailed additional information on the risks for children at borders, see Anafé, Brève 2016 – Mineurs isolés en zone d’attente : droits en péril aux frontières françaises, 2 May 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2CZGtLP; UNICEF, ‘Enfants non accompagnés : la protection de l’enfance doit s’exercer aussi à la frontière franco-italienne’, 13 December 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2pXsgoG.
 Article L.221-2 Ceseda.
 Article L.213-8-1 CESEDA.
 Article L.221-1 CESEDA.
 Information provided by Anafé, 17 September 2020.