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Refuge and Asylum

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Refuge and Asylum

Marcus Engler

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At the end of the 1980s, the number of applications for asylum in France rose significantly (1982: 22,500; 1989: 61,400). This can be explained in part by the fact that immigrants resorted increasingly to the right of asylum in the absence of other legal channels of migration. Bureaucratic obstacles and a trend towards lower recognition rates led to a decrease in the number of applicants in the 1990s. However, contrary to the European trend, the number of applications for asylum rose again at the end of the 1990s.

The number of new applications tripled between 1996 (17,405) and 2003 (52,204). In the following years the number of asylum applications sank, because the French asylum policy had become much more restrictive due to reforms in 2003. Since 2008, however, one can again observe a rise in the number of asylum-seekers. In 2010 a total of 52,762 asylum application were placed (48,074 of these were new applications). With this, France was the country with the highest rate of asylum applications in Europe. Internationally they were ranked second, just behind the United States.

In 2010, the three main sending countries for asylum seekers were Kosovo, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Generally the number of asylum applications from European countries is decreasing, while the number of asylum applications from Asian countries is increasing.

Asylum applicants in France by country of origin

Continent 2010 % 2009 % Evolution 2010/2009 in %
Europe 11,442 31.0 11,609 34.9 -1.4
thereof Kosovo3,2678.83,0489.27.2
Russia 2,4256.61,9615.923.7
Armenia 1,2783.52,2976.9-44.4
Turkey 1,2403.41,8265.5-32.1
Asia 10,310 2.9 8,170 24.6 26.2
thereof Bangladesh 3,0618.31,3754.1122.6
Sri Lanka 2,2656.12,6177.9-13.5
China 1,8054.91,5424.617.1
Africa 13,028 35.3 11,600 34.9 12.3
thereof Democratic Rep. of Congo 2,6167.12,1136.423.8
Guinea 1,7124.61,4554.417.7
Algeria 1,0242.81,0153.10.9
Mauretania 8622.31,0693.2-19.4

Source: Secrétariat géneral du Comité interministériel de contrôle de l'immigration (2011, p. 100)

Since January 1, 2004, France not only provides a conventional refugee status, but also so-called subsidiary protection (protection subsidiaire). This status can be granted to people who do not fulfill the criteria for refugee status, but who face the death penalty or torture in their country of origin, or if they have to fear for their lives upon return to that country. These people can receive a temporary residence permit. At the end of each year, the authorities investigate whether or not such protection is still necessary. If this is the case, the residence permit can be prolonged. In 2009, subsidiary protection was granted in 1,785 cases. Subsidiary protection has replaced the territorial asylum (asile territorial) that was set up in 1998.

Due to the current rise in the number of asylum applications, the Minister of the Interior Claude Guérant wants to make asylum law more restrictive and to sanction “economic refugees” and “asylum fraudsters”. Furthermore, an expansion of the list of so-called safe countries of origin should considerably decrease the number of qualifying asylum applicants. The reform of the law has, however, not yet been translated into action.



  1. Secrétariat général du Comité interministériel de contrôle de l’immigration (2011).

  2. (accessed: 3-20-2012).

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