Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including Albanian, Arabic, English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Tamil, and Turkish. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers outside of the country may request a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum from a French embassy or consulate. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in the country. Unlike other applicants, however, visa holders were authorized to work while their application was processed and evaluated. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.
In 2018 parliament adopted a law intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten to 90 days the period asylum seekers must have to make an application. The law includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention. It extends to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention and to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The law extends the duration of residence permits for persons granted subsidiary protection and for stateless refugees to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to protect girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons cannot be considered “safe” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.
OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted based on their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.
The country received 41 percent fewer applications for asylum in 2020 than in 2019, according to provisional data released by the Ministry of Interior on January 21. The decline in the indicators linked to immigration marked a clear break since the 2015 migration crisis and was directly attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak and related travel restrictions that curtailed the number of migrants entering the country.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 13 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary protection that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:
Calais continued to be a gathering point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the United Kingdom. As of October, authorities estimated that 500 migrants and refugees lived around Calais, while support groups said the number was closer to 1,500 to 2,000.
In an opinion about migrants in Calais and Grande-Synthe released February 11, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised authorities to end the so-called “zero point of fixation” security policy, which led to instances of police abuse of asylum seekers and other migrants encamped at Calais and those who provided humanitarian assistance to them.
On September 28, police dismantled the largest migrant camp in Calais, moving some 400 persons to temporary shelters in the region. Local authorities had provided water taps, and aid groups had been handing out meals to the estimated 500 to 800 persons who were living in the makeshift camp near the city’s main hospital. The police prefecture said the camp created “serious problems” for the security, hygiene, and peace of mind for employees and patients. According to the migrant aid organization Human Rights Observers, 15 of the 883 evictions conducted in Calais since the beginning of the year led to police transferring migrants to shelters.
On September 9, the Boulogne-sur-Mer court gave a riot police officer an 18-month suspended prison sentence for assaulting a British migrant-support activist in Calais during an operation to remove migrants in 2018 and for giving false evidence. The court also barred him from serving for two years. Of the two junior police officers who lied in support of the accused man’s version of events, one was given a reprimand while the other escaped disciplinary action. The rights group Amnesty International said the verdict sent a “clear signal” that such abuses would not be tolerated, after many allegations regarding police brutality towards activists and minorities.
In a report released October 7, Human Rights Watch stated police were harassing migrants in Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy. According to the report, police tactics also included regularly confiscating migrants’ belongings and harassing NGOs who provide humanitarian assistance.
Freedom of Movement:
Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners pending deportation. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 23 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories, with a total capacity of 2,196 persons.
On July 6, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, the Inter-Movement Committee for Aid of Evacuees (Cimade), Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 27,917 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2020, representing a 50 percent decrease from 53,273 persons placed in such centers in 2019. According to the report, the government detained 2,166 children, including 2,044 in Mayotte, a French overseas department located in the Indian Ocean. The report noted the detention and the deportation of children from Mayotte’s holding center were characterized by serious violations of their fundamental rights.
The exercise of an effective remedy against detention and deportation decisions in Mayotte was very limited due to the restrictive regime established by the French government for access to French nationality for children born on the island and the rapidity of evictions. Many children were detained illegally without at least one of their parents. According to the migrant assistance association’s report, some families were separated during these deportations. The report noted, however, that in 80 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that provides for up to 90 days’ detention time for foreigners subject to deportation. In 2020 the government did not report uniformly screening migrants in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation. The government also did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors at risk for sex and labor trafficking in Mayotte by offering medical, shelter, education, or other protection services.
Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2020, the latest year for which statistics were available, the government voluntarily repatriated 4,519 undocumented migrants to 75 different countries, including 1,374 minors, to their countries of origin, a 48.5 decrease from 2019. As of April the government offered an allowance of 650 euros ($750) per person (adults and children) for the voluntary return of asylum seekers from countries whose citizens need a visa for France and 300 euros ($345) per person (adults and children) for those from countries whose citizens did not need a visa for France or were citizens of Kosovo.
Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and may extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2020, the most recent year for which information was available.