Proposed changes by France’s Senate Law Commission to a controversial and widely criticized asylum and immigration bill could make things worse and open the door to improper and unlawful exclusion of refugees.
The commission’s amendments would require examiners to refuse an asylum seeker refugee status if there are “serious reasons to believe a person’s presence in France constitutes a threat to public security or state security.”
While at first blush this may seem like a legitimate ground, it is unnecessary and contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which France is party. Under the Convention a persecuted person, who otherwise qualifies as a refugee, can be denied that status, if there are serious reasons to believe he or she has already committed a serious crime against international or domestic law. The bill’s proposed standard is much lower, vaguer and open to abuse, making it easier and more likely that asylum seekers who have a right to protection in France, would be rejected. Moreover, if a refugee with status does prove to be a threat to public order or national security, that is a ground for expulsion from the country following due process under the Convention anyway.
Senators on the commission also backtracked on three improvements adopted by the lower house of parliament. They rejected the extension from one to four years for permits for people who benefit from ‘subsidiary’ protection, but not full refugee status; refused to extend a right to family reunification to parents and siblings of a child who is receiving international protection in France; and withdrew protection from prosecution for people providing humanitarian assistance to migrants, going against changes proposed by parliamentary members who hoped to shield such activists from prosecution for so-called crimes of solidarity.
The bill also forces refugees to wait two years, instead of 18 months, before they can be reunited with family members.
The Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty, has recently recommended a ban on the detention of children in line with international norms, but the commission’s senators voted only to limit detention of children to five days. Senators also want to allow migrants slated for deportation to be held for up to five days, up from the current 48 hours limit, before they see a judge.
The one positive note: the commission rejected the heavily-criticized proposal to shorten the deadline to appeal asylum rejections from one month to 15 days.
Now, it is critical that senators in the plenary sessions uphold international refugee law and do the right thing by amending and adopting a text that will protect not damage asylum seekers’ rights.