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France asylum-seekers' system 'in crisis', report

Syrian asylum-seekers in Calais, France, last year
Syrian asylum-seekers in Calais, France, last year AFP

France's system for handling asylum-seekers is "in crisis", according to a parliamentary report that highlights long-drawn-out and ineffective procedures and spending way over budget. But, although the number of applicants has almost doubled in the last four years, it is still far from the record numbers reached in 1989 and 2003.

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The report by MPs Jeanine Dubié, from the centrist Radical Party, and Arnaud Richard, of the right-wing UMP, was published on 10 April but did not hit the headlines until Tuesday when Le Figaro claimed it "exposes a system on the verge of implosion".

The right-wing daily reported an "influx of refugees" and "rising costs", quoting a prediction of minimum total spending on asylum-seekers for 2014 of 666 million euros.

Allowances to asylum-seekers totalled an "unprecedented" 180 million euros in 2013, the report says, and emergency accommodation cost 90 million.

Costs have soared 70 per cent since 2008 while the number of demands has risen just 55 per cent, it says.

The relevant agencies are "chronically underfunded", the MPs conclude, with overspending hitting 186.7 million euros in 2011.

Although the overspend was reduced to 64.8 million euros in 2013, the report's authors are not satisfied, pointing out that only some agencies' budgets have been adjusted in the light of rising demand.

The report also targets long-drawn-out administrative procedures that frequently do not result in failed applicants leaving the country.

Philippe Leclerc, representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in France worries about the lengthy processing time. 

“The fact that people have to wait on average 17 months after a first appeal is far too long," he told RFI. "It also leads to the system not being able to receive asylum seekers in conditions of dignity, because there are not enough spaces in the special centres made for them.”

It takes between 19 and 26 months to deal with an application, official figures show, and, while only only 24 per cent are successful, compared to 29.4 per cent in 2009, the report estimates that only about 17 per cent of people ordered to leave French territory actually do so.

New European Union rules are likely to make the procedure even longer, the MPs predict.

The number of asylum applications has risen over the last four years but, "contrary to a widespread opinion", it is far from being a record for France.

About 46,000 people applied for asylum in 2013, nearly twice as many as in 2009, but much lower than the 61,400 applicants in 1989, at a time of conflict in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Turkey, and the 52,200 in 2003, following a cut in personnel and an influx of refugees from former Yugoslavia, Chechnya and Algeria (see graph).

Nor is France Europe's top destination for asylum-seekers.

Britain (14,355) and Germany (13,045) accepted more applications than France (10,740) in 2011.

France received 985 applications per million inhabitants in 2013, compared to Sweden's 5,700, Belgium's 1,900 and Germany's 1,600.

The UN's refugee body, the UNHCR, points out that the overhwelming majority of refugees go to neighbouring countries, as is the case with Syrians fleeing the war in their country at the moment.

Other facts in the report:

  • Most refugees come from Africa and Europe;
  • The main countries of origin of asylum-seekers to France are Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Russia, Kosovo with Albania and China;
  • The highest proportion of successful applicants are from Syria (92 per cent), Iraq (68.5 per cent), Iran (54 per cent), Mali (47.6 per cent) and Afghanistan (45.5 per cent);
  • The success rate of applicants from China, Pakistan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Kosovo is lower than 10 per cent.

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