The Ofpra office in Fontenay-sous-Bois, France. Credit : RFI
The Ofpra office in Fontenay-sous-Bois, France. Credit : RFI

Following the October 16 beheading of a French schoolteacher by a Chechen refugee in the Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, several media reports and statements by politicians have featured factually inaccurate or false information concerning the right to asylum in France. InfoMigrants examined and fact-checked these statements.

The role of the National Asylum Court (Cour nationale du droit d'asile)

A day after the beheading of history and geography teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, a report in the French weekly Le Point noted that "justice forced the State to grant refugee status to the assailant’s family."

In an interview with InfoMigrants, Sylvain Saligari, a lawyer specializing in asylum and migrant rights, said these remarks were "surreal" and not correct.

In France, a foreigner must file an asylum application with the French Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides – or Ofpra in French). Ofpra is an institution independent of the government.

If the asylum seeker's case is rejected, he or she can appeal to the National Court of Asylum (Cour nationale du droit d'asile – or CNDA in French). "In a mature democracy, the right to appeal is a fundamental right," said Pierre Henry, former head of migrant rights NGO France Terre d'Asile and current head of France Fraternités, on Twitter.

"The CNDA has three independent judges, it is a real jurisdiction that considers whether or not the case presented falls under the Geneva Convention," which governs the status of refugee, said Saligari, who noted that about 20% of applications before the CNDA are approved.

Automatically granted’ protection upon reaching the age of majority

A senior civil servant quoted by Le Point noted that "since he [the assailant] obtained the protection of the State in 2011, a residence permit was automatically granted to him upon reaching the age of majority." Again, this sentence is misleading.

In France, when the parents of a minor are granted refugee status, the child is also protected under the Family Reunification Directive stipulated in the Aliens Code and in application of the European Commission’s Asylum Procedures Directive. Upon reaching the age of majority, the young person is thus granted the same refugee status as his or her parents, valid for a period of 10 years. "We cannot send back an individual who has lived in France for part of his life and whose family lives here in a regular situation," said Saligari.

"There is nothing automatic about issuing a 10-year card for a minor. It is linked to an uninterrupted period of residence since the age of 11. Don't confuse everything," warned Henry on Twitter.

Questioning the right to asylum

According to Europe 1 radio station, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin would like to "question the right to asylum".

In France, the protection of a foreigner threatened in his or her country of origin is enshrined in the French Constitution. "The right to asylum stems from the preamble of the Constitution, which states that 'every man persecuted because of his action in favour of freedom has the right to asylum on the territories of the Republic'," the interior ministry website states.

Moreover, as a signatory to the Geneva Convention, France cannot detract from its obligations regarding asylum. "Ratified by 145 State parties, it defines the term 'refugee' and sets out the rights of uprooted people, as well as the legal obligations of States to ensure their protection," notes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which acts as the "guardian" of the Convention.

A ‘quasi-systematic’ protection of nationals of certain countries?

Europe 1 also reported that the French interior minister has requested that protection is no longer granted "quasi-systematically" to nationals of certain countries.

This assertion is simply false. In France, no nationality is automatically granted refugee status (10 years) or subsidiary protection (4 years).

"There is nothing automatic. Nationals coming from certain regions of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan obtain subsidiary protection more easily because they come from countries at war, but they must prove that they are nationals of these states before they can benefit from it," noted Saligari. "I have often witnessed refusals by Ofpra and the CNDA of people from these four countries. Both these institutions have contested the origins of applicants," he stressed.

In addition, this protection can be withdrawn at any time if the country of origin is no longer in a state of conflict. Discussions are also underway with the French authorities to ensure that Syria and Afghanistan are no longer considered "at risk" for their nationals.

Difficulties in obtaining asylum

Obtaining asylum in France is extremely difficult, noted Saligari, who warned against broad generalizations or "amalgams" in French. Barely 20% of the asylum cases handled by Ofpra obtain refugee status – in 2019, out of 132,614 cases filed, only 36,512 were granted asylum.

In addition, refugee status can be withdrawn. "Withdrawing this residence permit is done very easily if the individual represents a serious threat on French soil, for facts prior or subsequent to obtaining refugee status," noted Saligari.


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