Definition and procedural consequences
The notion of safe countries of origin was introduced in French legislation by the Law of 10 December 2003. The definition is completed by a reference to the definition provided in Annex 1 of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive that provides that:
“A country is considered as a safe country of origin where, on the basis of the legal situation, the application of the law within a democratic system and the general political circumstances, it can be shown that there is generally and consistently no persecution as defined in Article 9 of Directive 2011/95/EU, no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.”
By law, a country is considered safe “if it ensures respect for the principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The definition has been complemented with the 2018 reform, and now states that the absence of persecution has to be considered for men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Applications from safe countries of origin are to be systematically processed by OFPRA within an Accelerated Procedure, except under special circumstances relating to vulnerability and specific needs of the asylum seeker or if the asylum seeker calls upon serious reasons to believe that their country is not be safe given their personal situation and the grounds of their claim.
List of safe countries of origin
The first list of safe countries of origin was established in June 2005 by the OFPRA Management Board. Every time a country is removed from or added to the list, the deliberations of the Management Board are published in the Official Journal. This list can be reviewed in OFPRA Board meetings. However, the composition of the Management Board has been modified, partly to strengthen the amending procedure of the list. In addition, qualified personalities (personnalités qualifiées) can vote on the constitution of the list of safe countries of origin.
The board is made up of 16 members:
- 2 personalities (one male, one female) nominated by the Prime Minister;
- 1 representative of the Ministry of Interior;
- 1 representative of the Ministry in charge of Asylum;
- The Secretary General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs;
- The Director for Civil Affairs and Seal of the Ministry of Justice;
- 1 representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs;
- 1 representative of the Ministry in charge of Women’s Rights;
- 1 representative of the Ministry for overseas territories;
- The Director of the Budget for the Ministry in charge of the Budget;
- 2 Members of Parliament (one male, one female);
- 2 Senators (one male, one female); and
- 2 Members of the European Parliament (one male, one female).
Not only can the Management Board decide on its own initiative to amend the list but also the reform of the law on asylum provides that presidents of the Committee of Foreign Affairs and the Committee of the Laws of both houses (Parliament and Senate) or civil society organisations promoting asylum right, third country nationals’ rights, or women and/or children’s rights can refer to the Management Board that one country should be registered or crossed off the list of safe countries of origin.
The list has to be regularly re-examined by the Management Board in order to make sure that the inscription of a country is still relevant considering the situation in the country. ‘In case of quick and uncertain developments in one country, it can suspend its registration.’
The sources used by the Management Board of OFPRA to substantiate its decisions are not officially published. OFPRA has an internal resources service working on country of origin information and a UNHCR representative sits in the management board meetings, but the process lacks transparency as to the sources of information used to decide on the safety of a country remain internal.
The list of countries considered to be safe countries of origin is public. At the end of 2022 it included the following 13 countries:
- Cape Verde;
- North Macedonia;
Several countries have been removed from the list by the Management Board of OFPRA (but can sometimes also be reintroduced in the list at a later stage):
|Country||Withdrawal or suspension by OFPRA Management Board|
|Tanzania||October 2015 – Withdrawn|
|Croatia||June 2013 – Withdrawn|
|Georgia||November 2009 (previously withdrawn currently on the list)|
|Mali||December 2012 – Withdrawn|
|Ukraine||March 2014 – Withdrawn|
|Benin||September 2020 – Suspended for a year|
Moreover, decisions to add a country to the list can be challenged before the Council of State by third parties. The Council of State has removed several countries from the list:
|Country||Removal by Council of State|
|Albania||February 2008; March 2012 (currently on the list)|
|Kosovo||March 2012; October 2014 (currently on the list)|
|Mali||July 2010 (for women only)|
|Benin, Senegal, Ghana||July 2021|
In October 2019, the Management Board of OFPRA decided to maintain the current list of safe countries of origin, but added that the situation in Benin would be reviewed within six months. In September 2020, the Management Board of OFPRA decided to suspend the placement of Benin as safe country of origin during 12 months.
In a decision of 2 July 2021, the Council of State removed Benin, Senegal and Ghana from the list of safe countries of origin but maintained all other countries. Regarding Benin, the Council considers that the temporary suspension decided by OFPRA was insufficient in view of the political deterioration in the country. For Ghana and Senegal, the withdrawal is motivated by the persecution against homosexuals. Some of the requests made by the NGOs were analysed in another decision, following a referral to another court formation. The Council of State considered in November 2021 that the other countries (Armenia, Georgia) could not be withdrawn but laid down a new principle on the assessment of the legality of these measures: the examination may be based on new circumstances subsequent to the establishment of the list.
In 2021, 12,787 first-time applications (excluding minors) were lodged by persons originating from the 13 “safe countries of origin” (19% of all first asylum applications). In 2022, applicants from Albania and Georgia are in the top ten countries of origin of asylum seekers in France.
 Law n. 2003-1176 of 10 December 2003 on the right to asylum.
 Article L. 121-13 Ceseda, as amended by Article 6 Law n. 2018-778 of 10 September 2018.
 Article L. 531-24 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-28 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-25 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-25 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-25 Ceseda.
 OFPRA, Decision of September 29, 2020 suspending the Republic of Benin from the list of safe countries of origin, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3ALPCUA.