An asylum application in France may be lodged either on the territory (obtaining the application form from the prefecture) or at the border (in case the asylum seeker does not possess valid travel documents to enter the territory, at any time while in the waiting zone) or from an administrative detention centre (in case the person is already being detained for the purpose of removal).
The registration of asylum claims in France has been deeply reorganised with the reform of the law on asylum, fully applicable as of 1 November 2015. A “single desk” (guichet unique) has been introduced in order to register both the asylum claim and the need for material reception conditions.
In order to lodge an asylum application in France, asylum seekers must present themselves to the local organisation responsible for pre-reception. Orientation platforms are mainly but not exclusively expected to perform this task. This new step in the registration procedure aims to avoid long lines in front of Prefectures, as foreign nationals presenting themselves to the single desk (“guichet unique”) have an appointment. The appointment has to take place within 3 days after asylum seekers have expressed their intention to lodge an asylum claim.1 This deadline can be expanded up to 10 days when a large number of foreign nationals wishing to introduce an asylum claim arrive at the same time.2 At the time of writing, the 3 days deadline was not respected in several Prefectures: in Lyon the average delay is 15 days, in Paris it is 1 month and in Seine Saint Denis, 2 months. It is no longer mandatory to provide an address (“domiciliation”) to register asylum seekers’ claim. However, as long as administrative notifications are still sent by mails, asylum seekers have to provide an address for the procedure to be smoothly conducted. An address certificate (déclaration de domiciliation) is also necessary to benefit from certain social benefits, in particular the Universal Medical Coverage (CMU). A specific form to declare asylum seekers’ address is available since 20 October 2015.
In order for their claim to be registered by the Prefecture, asylum seekers have to provide the following:3
- Information relating to civil status;
- Travel documents, entry visa or any documentation giving information on the conditions of entry on the French territory and travel routes from the country of origin;
- 4 ID photos; and
- In case the asylum seeker is housed on his or her own means, his or her address.
It is only once the asylum claim certification (attestation de demande d’asile) has been granted that a form to formally lodge their asylum application is handed over. Specific documentation is also handed to the asylum seekers in order to provide him or her information on:
- The asylum procedure;
- His or her rights and obligations throughout the procedure;
- The consequences that violations of these obligations might have;
- His or her rights and obligations in relation to reception conditions; and
- Organisations supporting asylum seekers.
The asylum claim certification is delivered for a specific period of time, renewable until the end of the procedure. Depending on the procedure, the period of validity varies:4
- Under regular procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 9 months and 6 months afterwards (as many times as necessary);
- Under accelerated procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 6 months and 3 months (as many times as necessary);
- Under Dublin procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 4 months (as many times as necessary).
Then, the asylum seeker has 21 calendar days to fill in the application form in French and send it by registered mail to OFPRA.5 In order for the claim to be processed by OFPRA, the filled and signed application form as to be accompanied by a copy of the asylum claim certification, 2 ID photos and, if applicable, a travel document and the copy of the residence permit. Upon reception of the claim, OFPRA shall inform the asylum seeker as well as the competent Prefect and the OFII that the claim is complete and ready to be processed. In case the claim is incomplete the asylum seeker has to be asked to provide the necessary missing elements or information within 8 additional days.6
The Prefecture may refuse to grant an asylum claim certification for 2 reasons:7
- The foreign national introduced a subsequent application after the final rejection of his or her first subsequent application; or
- The foreign national is subject to a final decision of extradition.
If foreign nationals are refused an asylum claim certification, they are refused the right to stay on the French territory and to introduce an asylum claim. They might be placed in an administrative detention centre in view of their removal.
In addition, the renewal of an asylum claim certification can be refused, or the asylum claim certification can be refused or removed when:8
- OFPRA has taken an inadmissibility decision;
- The asylum seeker has withdrawn his or her asylum claim
- OFPRA has closed the asylum claim. OFPRA is entitled to close an asylum claim if it has not been introduced within 21 days; or if the asylum seeker did not present him or herself to the interview ; or if the asylum seeker has consciously refused to provide fundamental information; or if the asylum seeker has not provided any address and cannot be contacted;9
- A first subsequent application has been introduced by the asylum seeker only to prevent a notified or imminent order of removal;
- The foreign national introduced a subsequent application after the final rejection of his or her first subsequent application; or
- The foreign national is subject to a final decision of extradition. In case of a refusal, or refusal of a renewal, or removal of the asylum claim certification, the asylum seeker is not allowed to remain on the French territory and this decision can be accompanied by an order to leave the French territory (OQTF).
The decision can be challenged before the Administrative Court and it has a suspensive effect. In parallel to the registration of the claim at the Prefecture, the file of the asylum seeker is transferred to the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) that is responsible for the management of the national reception scheme. The reform of the law on asylum has introduced a system of single desk (guichet unique), experimented since 1 November 2015 in some pilot Prefectures and it is to be expanded to 34 desks in total as of 31 January 2016 (see section on Reception Conditions).
The first instance determination authority in France is OFPRA. When OFPRA receives a complete application within the required deadlines, it registers it and sends a confirmation letter to the applicant. If not, OFPRA refuses to register the application. Such a refusal can be challenged before the Administrative Court of Melun. This remedy can be useful if a "valid" excuse can be argued (e.g. health problems during the period).
French law does not lay down strict time limits for asylum seekers to lodge an application for asylum after entering the country. However, the revised law specifies that one reason why OFPRA shall process an asylum claim in accelerated procedure is that “without legitimate reason, the seeker who irregularly entered the French territory or remained there irregularly did not introduced his or her asylum claim in a period of 120 days as from he or she has entered the French territory.”10
Under the former law, several difficulties had been highlighted in practice for asylum seekers with regard to the registration of their claim on the territory. For instance, the requirement to obtain a temporary residence permit from the Prefecture before they could lodge their asylum application with OFPRA in fact imposed an additional delay for asylum seekers, as some Prefectures did not respect the prescribed time limit of 15 days between the filing of the required documents and the appointment at the Prefecture to deliver the temporary permit.11 The reform of the law on asylum does not fundamentally change the process as asylum seekers still have to get a preliminary document allowing them to remain on the territory before they can introduce their claim. However, the deadline between their first expression of intention for lodging a claim at the Prefectures and the effective registration of their claim and the consequent delivery of the asylum claim certification has been reduced to 3 days.12 It can be expanded up to 10 days in case of exceptional situation where many foreign nationals intend to lodge a claim at the same time. As the “domiciliation” address is not a requirement anymore, delays should be more easily respected. However, at the time of writing, the delay for registering asylum claims was of 15 days in the Rhône, 1 month in Paris and 2 months in Seine Saint Denis.
Even though these deadlines did not pertain to the registration of the asylum application per se, they could have a dramatic impact on the time spent before access to the asylum procedure is really effective. The new procedure intends to reduce these delays and facilitate early access to the procedure and reception conditions.
Finally, the requirement to write the asylum application in French can be a serious constraint. For asylum seekers who do not benefit from any support through the procedures and who may face daily survival concerns, the imposed period of 21 days is very short. The objective of the reform is that, in theory, all asylum seekers are housed and accompanied in the context of the national reception scheme, in order to avoid this kind of difficulties and inequalities between asylum seekers. However, this is the not the case in practice at the time of writing.
Applications lodged in detention
It should also be noted that in administrative detention centres, it is indicated to the persons held that their asylum application will not be admissible if it is lodged more than 5 calendar days after the notification of their rights read upon arrival, except if the foreign national calls upon new facts occurred after the 5-day deadline has expired.13 Asylum seekers in detention can benefit from legal and linguistic assistance.14 These provisions introduced in the revised law on asylum have formalised the decision of 30 July 2014 of the Council of State in which it considered that, in certain cases, the asylum seeker held in administrative detention could lodge an asylum application after the 5-day deadline if (a) he or she could not lodge his or her asylum application because he or she could not benefit from an effective legal and linguistic assistance; or (b) in order to substantiate his or her case, he or she alleges facts which happened after this deadline.15
Applications at the border and refusal of entry
A specific border procedure to request an admission into the country on asylum grounds is provided by French legislation for persons arriving illegally or with false identity or travel documents on French territory through airports or harbours (see section on Border Procedure).16 When the foreign national presents him or herself at the border expressing his or her intention to claim asylum, he or she is informed without delay about the asylum procedure, his or her rights and obligations throughout the procedure as well as the consequences in case he or she does not comply with his or her obligations or refuses to cooperate with competent authorities.17 The request must be taken into account and the Border Police has to take a statement of the request for an admission on asylum grounds. The person is held in a waiting zone for an initial duration of 4 days.18
The reason why people expressing their intention to apply for asylum at the border are kept in a waiting zone for 4 days is to determine whether they are entitled to enter the country or if they shall be sent back to their country of origin or transit. In addition to the situation where the foreign national represents a “severe threat to public safety”, the revised law on asylum formulates 3 grounds for refusal of entry into the country of foreign nationals having expressed their intention to apply for asylum:
- The asylum claim is the responsibility of another Member State;
- The asylum claim is inadmissible;
- The asylum claim is manifestly unfounded.
Apart from the first situation, the decision to refuse the entry into the country cannot be taken without consultation of OPFRA, whose opinion, if favourable to the entry into the country, is binding, except in the situation where the foreign national constitutes a threat to national security.
A suspensive appeal can be lodged to contest the decision of the ministry to apply the Dublin Regulation to a foreign national in a waiting zone at the French border. In case the asylum claim is deemed inadmissible, the seeker can challenge this decision before the CNDA. This appeal has a suspensive effect.
There is no strict deadline to apply for asylum when applicants are waiting for their admission at the border, the person may apply for asylum at any time during the time he or she is held in the waiting zone, meaning during 4 days.
There are occasional reports of people simply being refused entry at the border. For example, in January 2014, the press reported that two young Guineans were denied entry to French territory upon their arrival (in Marseille) on a cargo ship from Dakar. ANAFE reported that the border police had refused to register their asylum application and refused their admission to the territory. These young Guineans were then taken back to the ship, without having been placed in the waiting zone and without benefiting from the “clear day” (“jour franc”) notice period (24 hours during which the person cannot be returned). This refoulement ended dramatically as these two boys jumped into the sea to escape this forced return and one of them drowned.19
More recently, the situation at the French-Italian border has alerted a number of civil society organisations. Most migrants arriving in Italy and wishing to continue their journey onward to other EU countries to apply for asylum travel to France via Nice, then Paris where they try to reach other countries up North. Most of them came from Eritrea and were in need of protection but did not want to apply for asylum in France or Italy. Despite their effort to continue their journey onward, the increasing number of migrants arriving in Italy also generated an increasing number of people in Nice. In April 2015 there were every day in between 60 and 200 people at the train station in Nice, sleeping in front of the station while waiting for a train to Paris. However, due to the deteriorating situation in Paris where there were several irregular camps being set up, controls, arrests and readmissions to Italy have significantly increased in Alpes-Maritime during from May to mid-June 2015, thus leading to a sharp decrease in the number of migrants in Nice and Manton.
During the first week of June 2015, 1,439 arrests have been officially registered, among which 1,097 led to a readmission to Italy. Mid-June, the French-Italian border was simply closed and hundreds of migrants were blocked in Vintimiglia, Italy where they only received support from the Italian Red Cross and local NGOs. Those who tried to cross the border were immediately arrested and either sent back to Italy with an immediate readmission order or after having been placed in administrative detention centre. On 24 and 25 June 2015, several French NGOs (GISTI, Cimade, ANAFE and Lawyers for the Defense of Foreigners’ Rights) and migrants introduced a claim for an emergency ruling for possible infringement of civil liberties to the Conseil d’Etat, arguing that the French police is operating systematic and discriminatory controls at the French-Italian border which are contrary to the Schengen Border Code, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. Their claim has been rejected on 29 June 2015. The Conseil d’Etat has stated that it is legal to process to identity checks and controls within 20 kilometres between the Italian border and the French territory as well as in train stations, airports and harbours. Moreover, the Conseil d’Etat recommends referring to the competent courts to contest alleged violations or rights and illegal controls and placements in detention as it is not the competent authority.20
- 1. Article L.741-1 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Article R.741-3 Ceseda, as amended by the Decree of 21 September 2015.
- 4. Ministerial ruling on application of Article L.741-1 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015, published on 9 October 2015.
- 5. Article R.723-1 Ceseda, as amended by the Decree of 21 September 2015.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Article L.741-1 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 8. Article L.743-2 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 9. Article L.723-13 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 10. Article L.723-2(III)(3), as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 11. Article R. 742-1 Ceseda.
- 12. This new provision stated in Article L. 741-1 of the revised Ceseda is applicable as of 30 July 2015.
- 13. Article L551-3 Ceseda, as amended by the Law of 29 July 2015.
- 14. Ibid.
- 15. Council of State, Decision n° 375430, 30 July 2014, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1LK6tsf.
- 16. Article L221-1 et seq. Ceseda.
- 17. Article R.213-2 Ceseda, as amended by the Decree of 21 September 2015.
- 18. Article L221-3 Ceseda.
- 19. ANAFE, ‘Zone d’attente de Marseille / Mort d’un jeune Guinéen dans le Port de Marseille : l’Anafé demande une enquête’ (Marseille waiting area/ death of a young Guinean in the port of Marseille: ANAFE requests an inquiry), 13 January 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1T89kfJ.
- 20. Conseil d’Etat, Gisti and Others, Order of 29 June 2015, available in French at: http://bit.ly/1CLaSs6.