The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France on January 11, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

(Paris) – France should learn the lessons of the European Court of Human Rights decision today concerning a serious deficiency in its asylum procedure.

The European Court condemned the lack of a suspensive appeal in the “priority” procedure which allows asylum seekers to be returned to their countries of origin before their fears of persecution have been fully examined, finding it incompatible with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2011, one-fourth of all asylum applications were examined under this accelerated procedure.

“This decision is a reminder that States must never send people back to their countries until it has been demonstrated fully and definitively that they do not face risks there,” ACAT France, Amnesty International France, and Human Rights Watch said.

In its ruling in the case of I.M. v. France, the Court underlined that the effectiveness of an appeal “depends on the requirements of quality, speed and its suspensive effect, considering in particular the importance the Court attaches to article 3 and the irreversible nature of the harm likely to be caused if the risk of torture or ill-treatment should be realized.” In finding fault with the fast track procedure, the Court emphasized that the individual did not in practice have the means to appeal, and concluded there had been a violation of the right to an effective remedy.

The absence of a suspensive appeal to the National Court of Asylum for asylum claims processed under this accelerated procedure has placed thousands of people at risk. International human rights bodies from the United Nations and the Council of Europe have for years recommended that France remedy the situation.

“The obstinate resistance on the part of the French authorities is emblematic of an asylum policy guided more by a logic of suspicion vis-à-vis asylum seekers rather than a genuine will to protect them,” the three organizations said.  “It is high time for France to commit itself fully to making the principle of non-refoulement a reality in all circumstances.”
 

Context
The case of I.M. v. France involved a Sudanese man from Darfur who was arrested upon arrival in France and sentenced to one month in prison for an immigration infraction.  At the end of his sentence, I.M. was placed in immigration detention pending deportation to Sudan.  His application for asylum, submitted while in detention and processed under the accelerated procedure, was rejected.  Because his appeal to the National Court of Asylum did not have suspensive effect, he risked being returned to Sudan before the Court had examined his appeal.

For at least five years, ACAT France, Amnesty International France and Human Rights Watch have advocated to French authorities the need to bring France’s asylum procedure in line with international human rights law.  They have mobilized parliamentarians on numerous occasions and pushed for amendments to numerous bills.  The government has always rejected these proposals.

Additional Information

  • According to the French Interior Ministry, 26% of asylum applications in 2011 were processed under the accelerated procedure.
  • Asylum claims are examined by the French Office for Refugees and Stateless People (l’Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, OFPRA), a government body.  Under the accelerated priority procedure, OFPRA must examine applications within 15 days.  Appeals against rejections to the higher National Court of Asylum do not have suspensive effect, meaning the asylum seeker may be sent back to his or her country of origin before the Court has rendered judgment.
  • Unlike what happens in the normal asylum procedure, asylum seekers in the accelerated procedure are simply tolerated on French territory and do not receive residency permits.  They do not have the right to social assistance or housing, which has a negative impact on their ability to pursue their asylum application.
  • The accelerated priority procedure is used for asylum seekers
  • Coming from countries on  France’s list of “safe countries of origin;”
  • Considered to pose a threat to public order; and
  • Whose application is deemed fraudulent or intended solely to avoid « ordered or imminent » deportation.

The procedure is also often used in cases where a rejected asylum seeker reapplies on the basis of new information.

Finally, all those who apply for asylum while in immigration detention pending deportation are processed under the priority procedure.  

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights have regularly expressed their concerns about the accelerated asylum procedure in France, and have recommended the creation of a suspensive appeal.  Upon examination of France in May 2010, the United Nations Committee against Torture said it was “concerned at report that 22 per cent of asylum applications submitted in 2009 were dealt with under the so-called priority procedure, which does not allow for an appeal with suspensive effect…the Committee is not convinced that the priority procedure offers adequate safeguards against removal where there is a risk of torture.”