Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 18/03/21
The previous update of the report was published in March 2020.
- Consequences of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: Following the outbreak of COVID-19, registration and asylum related activities have been temporarily suspended from 23 March to 11 May 2020. Subsequently, access to the asylum procedure and to reception conditions was suspended with no alternative solutions. This measure had no legal basis and mainly resulted from the lack of available civil servants within State agencies. On 30 April 2020, the Council of State urged the authorities to reopen access to registration in Paris.
- Access to the territory: Reports of people being refused entry without their protection needs being taken into account at the Italian border persisted in 2020, as confirmed by the Council of State in a decision of 8 July 2020 in which it concluded that by refusing the entry to the territory the authorities had manifestly infringed the right to asylum. Intensified border controls and mass arrests have resulted in shifting migratory routes, forcing individuals to resort to more dangerous routes through the mountains. Cases of refusals of entry of unaccompanied children have also been reported in 2020, both at the Italian and Spanish borders, thereby violating the rights of the children. Thus, despite strong condemnation by monitoring bodies, civil society organisations, as well as court rulings condemning Prefectures for failing to register the asylum applications of people entering through Italy, access to the territory remains a serious matter of concern in 2020.
- Key figures at first instance: In 2020, a total of 93,426 persons applied for international protection, out of which 81,669 were first time applicants. The determining authority, the OFPRA, issued a 70,036 first instance decisions and the recognition rate stood at 19.8% at first instance, while the backlog of pending cases reached a total of 84,000 cases, up from 74,385 in 2019. The average length of the procedure was 262 days, up from 161 days in 2019.
- Use of videoconferencing: In the context of COVID-19, the use of videoconferencing has increased, in particular at appeal stage in front of the National Court of Asylum (CNDA). The use of videoconferencing was already foreseen prior to the pandemic by a law of 2018 but rarely applied in practice because of protests from lawyers. In November 2020, Courts and lawyers’ organisations reached an agreement which foresees that the express consent of the applicant as a prerequisite for the use of videoconferencing.
- Afghan nationals: On 19 November 2020, the CNDA put an end to its previous ‘Kabul jurisprudence’ which allowed Afghan nationals to be largely protected in France. It concluded that the level of violence in Kabul is not high enough to justify a protection for all people arriving at airports. This means that individual circumstances need to be assessed again and puts Afghan nationals at risk of return. It is also likely to have important consequences in practice given that Afghans have been the first nationality of applicants in France since 2018 and recent Eurostat statistics indicate that a total of 17,520 applications for international protection of Afghan nationals were pending as of the end of December 2020. The new CNDA ruling is thus likely to impact their situation in the future.
- Lack of reception capacity: At the end of 2020, only about 51% of asylum seekers eligible for material reception conditions were accommodated, compared to 48% in 2019 and 44% in 2018. The number of places dedicated to asylum seekers (98,564 at the end of the year) has not increased in 2020 and remains insufficient, resulting in serious issues of homelessness and destitution.
- Inhumane living conditions: Many asylum seekers are left without accommodation and camps are regularly dismantled in big cities or in the North of France (e.g. Calais, Grande Synthe) where more than 1,000 migrants were living in early 2021 despite police repression. The brutality of these evictions, including reports of abuse, excessive force and violence, are regularly reported as a serious matter of concern. Human rights bodies, such as the French Public Defender or the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), have urged the authorities to swiftly adopt solutions to respect the dignity of the individuals concerned and further raised concerns in particular regarding vulnerable applicants as well as the inadequate conditions in COVID-19 times.
- New national plan 2021-2023: On 18 December 2020, a “national plan for the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of refugees for 2021-2023″ was published. It foresees the possibility to adapt the reception policy to the migration context and to the specific characteristics of the regions, inter alia through a better distribution of asylum seekers across national territory.
- Vulnerable applicants in reception: The national plan mentioned above includes measures aimed at identifying vulnerabilities at an early stage and strengthening the management of these vulnerabilities. It refers to the publication of an “action plan for the care of the most vulnerable asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection” in January 2021 in order to guide the actions carried out jointly by State services and operators for the coming years”, but the latter was still not published at the time of writing of this report. It remains to be seen to which extent it will actually improve the identification of specific vulnerabilities of asylum seekers. Moreover, 300 places women victims of violence and/or trafficking and 200 places for LGBTQI+ have been opened in 2020 as part of the reception system for asylum seekers.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Detention in the context of COVID-19: In July 2020, the Controller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty voiced concerns about the situation in pre-removal detention facilities, including waiting zones at the border, in conditions that put the detainees’ health at risk. By the end of 2020, the detention framework was adapted to the crisis in certain respects but other points remained problematic.
- De facto detention at borders: Intensified border controls in recent years have led to new forms of detention, including de facto detention in police stations at the Italian border which cannot be accessed by civil society organisations. In December 2020, the Administrative Court of Marseille suspended the decision of the Prefect prohibiting access of NGOs to the place where migrants are kept at the border in Hautes-Alpes. A similar decision has been issued by the Administrative Court of Nice regarding access to the police station in Menton, but a new decision issued by the Prefect continues to deny such access to NGOs. The Administrative Court of Nice ruled again in March 2021 thatthis decision was illegal under European law and French Constitution.
- Detention conditions: In its 2020 report, the European committee for the prevention of torture (CPT) flagged several other concerns on detention conditions in the context of immigration in France, which can be listed as follows: a lack of specialised training for staff, no systematic health examination before admission, almost total absence of activities and little contact with staff, a prison-like environment, almost no activities in most of the places visited, information notices on rights which often only exist in French, no consultation with a psychologist, but also good practice of wide access to outdoor courtyards. As regards de facto detention at borders, the CPT reported that the material conditions in the premises in Menton were extremely poor and could undermine the dignity of the people placed there. The Committee expressed serious doubts on whether people who are refused entry to the territory are able to know, understand and exercise their rights.
Content of international protection
- Family reunification: Due to COVID-19, family reunification was suspended for months in 2020. The health crisis resulting from the pandemic is a situation that was not foreseen in the decision listing exceptions allowing entry into France. Thus, the decision to suspend family reunification procedures was challenged and the Council of State concluded in January 2021 that family reunification should not be limited in the context of health crisis.
- Residence permits: As a result of COVID-19 and the temporary closure of Prefectures, the duration of residence permits expiring between 20 March and 15 June 2020 have been automatically extended by 180 days.
- Housing: Despite several measures taken throughout the years to enable beneficiaries to secure housing, a high numbers of status holders continue to leave reception centres with nowhere to go. Access to housing was more difficult in 2020 in the context of COVID-19. In the first semester of 2020, only 1,755 people exited the reception system with a housing solution. As a result, many beneficiaries of protection are homeless or live in informal settlements.