Message to the President Elect
For more than two years, the student association Sciences Po Refugee Help has worked alongside persons seeking asylum or having obtained the refugee status. We provide urgent material needs, legal aid, and offer french lessons and social activities to those living in Paris’ streets and emergency housing centres. Our mandate is simple: to ensure that the right to asylum is upheld, and the dignity of those individuals concerned, respected. On the eve of your ascension to power, we wished to provide you with an overview of the situation as observed it on the ground, with a particular focus on the past few weeks.
On the streets:
- On a regular basis, hundreds of people come to sleep in the streets, particularly around the Porte de la Chapelle camp. The two emergency housing services (Porte de la Chapelle for adult men, and Ivry for women and families) are full, and have been so for several weeks, if not months. In the absence of additional housing services, newcomers have no choice but to sleep outside, unprotected. Chance evacuations to gymnasium facilities only solve this issue on a temporary basis.
- An increasing number of minors, refused by the Dispositif d’évaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers (DEMIE), end up in a legal limbo that jeopardises them. Their underage status refused by the DEMIE, these minors appeal before the Children’s Court, which has higher recognition rates. However, the waiting period before an appeal decision can last several months, during which these children are in a legally ambiguous situation, as they are administratively considered as neither overage (and ergo lack access to the Chapelle camp or common law measures), neither underage (lacking access to the Aide sociale à l’enfance).
- The provision of urgent material needs in the streets is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure. The absence of means leads to a lack of essential needs, specifically hygiene products that are able to mitigate the spread of diseases in street camps. Restrictions on food distribution have resulted fines for volunteers and associations, at the cost of funds for their day to day activities. The personal effects of individuals sleeping in the streets have been lost during camp evacuations or dispersion orders, as executed by the police, sometimes in the middle of the night.
- A growing number of individuals are forced into an irregular stay. Although the law states that asylum requests must be registered and proofs of receipt provided within three days of arrival, the reality on the ground suggests a delay of three months. During that three month period, those individuals concerned have no choice but to stay on French territory irregularly. This puts them at risk of receiving an OQTF (Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français, an order to leave French territory) from the prefecture, in spite of the fact that had their asylum request been received within the planned timeframe, they would have had the right to remain in France until a decision was made by the authorities on their asylum request. These OQTFs are sometimes handed out at the very entrance of the Hidalgo Centre, to individuals attempting to enter it, who are then arrested and brought to administrative detention centres.
In emergency housing centres:
- The use of Emergency Housing Centres (CHU) to make up for the lack of Facilities Hosting Asylum Seekers (CADA) leads to significant problems where the administrative processing of residents’ asylum requests is concerned.
- There is, first and foremost, a low number of social workers in comparison with the high number of cases to be managed. On average, Sciences Po Refugee Help has observed 1 social worker for 30 to 40 cases. Whereas no legal obligation exists regarding the number of social workers per number of residents in CHUs, there is such an obligation* in CADAs: 1 full-time social worker for 10 to 15 residents. The aim of this obligation is to prevent excessive workloads, burnouts amongst social workers, and negative repercussions on the processing of residents’ asylum requests — phenomenons we are increasingly observing in CHUs.
- Moreover, social workers operating in CHUs do not receive any specific state training on the right to asylum. Rather, they have come to rely on trainings or administrative assistance as provided by associations like ours, as we accompany residents to their administrative appointments, provide translations, or follow-up on specific cases (especially complex cases involving house arrests or managing placements in a detention centre).
- There is a high toll of psychological violence that counselling services, when they exist, are unable to handle. In the month of January alone, Sciences Po Refugee Help reported 5 cases of defenestration in housing centres. Where psychological assistance is concerned, very few centres have a psychologist on site. The Primo Levi clinic (for victims of torture) or Minkowski clinic (specialised in migration-related trauma) are overwhelmed by the number of patient requests: there is a 6 month waiting list for Primo-Levi, and a 3 month one at Minkowski in order to have a primary evaluation that determines the necessity and possibility of any follow-up.
In the courts:
- There is a legal shift where the recognition of the mineur isolé étranger (MIE, or unaccompanied foreign minor) status is concerned. The “unaccompanied” criterion is slowly gaining primacy over the “underage” criterion. In a verdict dismissing the resort to protective measures, handed down by Children’s Court of Appeals in Evry, 91012, Sciences Po Refugee Help was cited for its material assistance towards a minor (specifically, for having paid them RER tickets in order to be present at their trial). This action was interpreted by the court as proof that the individual was not unaccompanied, and therefore did not deserve the MIE status. This legal shift encourages minors to sleep outside and refuse all aid during the days preceding their trial.
- The use of Dublin procedures is causing legal concern, specifically in the case of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria. Individuals seeking asylum, once placed under a Dublin procedure, no longer benefit from any social aid or access to rights in France. This makes their stay in emergency housing centres, as they wait to be transferred, difficult for both the person seeking asylum and social workers on site. In the case of transfers to Bulgaria, the legality of Dublin procedures is contested given the human rights violations in Bulgaria, specifically violations of the right to asylum (see our full report). When a transfer order to Bulgaria has been appealed and annulled by a court of law, the prefecture has been known to hand down a second transfer order, in violation of the court’s verdict.
- Sciences Po Refugee Help has noticed the systematic and mandatory taking of fingerprints by the Centre d’Examen de la Situation Administrative (CESA). In 96% of cases, this taking of fingerprints, originally for the purpose of verifying identities, results in the individual being placed in a Dublin procedure, without an asylum request being registered at the same time. Yet, many prefectures in Île de France subsequently refuse to register an asylum request once an individual has passed by the CESA. These individuals therefore find themselves in legal limbo, unable to benefit from the rights reserved to those seeking international protection (specifically, the monthly stipend for asylum seekers, basic health insurance, or any concrete social and administrative follow-up). Sciences Po Refugee Help is currently working on a dozen or so cases like this, while knowing that this issue, when previously raised by La Cimade and Le GISTI, had not led to any answers.
In conclusion, the implementation of the right to asylum in France continues to suffer from a lack of means and communication between state and non-state actors. The complexity of the asylum procedure, as well as the legal incoherence surrounding certain themes, has created a rift between the legal framework and its real-life application. This rift directly impacts the dignity and day to day life of those persons who have asked France to protect them.
Sciences Po Refugee Help hopes that the incoming government will take these concerns into account, and remains available for any requests for additional information regarding the points raised above. Above all, we will continue our work to uphold the right to asylum, and the dignity of those persons concerned by its application.
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* Réseau Européen des Migrations, L’organisation des structures d’accueil pour demandeurs d’asile en France. October 2013.