Palestinian Refugees in France
Photo: Refugees from Syria pass under a highway security fence as they try to find a new way to enter Hungary after Hungarian police sealed the border with Serbia near the village of Horgos, Serbia, September 2015. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

by Lisa Auer*

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, France has welcomed more than 10,000 Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees from Syria from the over five million people who fled the conflict. Four thousand five hundred were granted refugee status in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention, while the rest received subsidiary protection (protection subsidiaire). Subsidiary protection is a special asylum regime granted, after examination of the request, to all people who cannot enjoy refugee status but face in their country of origin serious risks of death penalty, torture or ill-treatments, or grave, direct and individual threat to life because of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or non-international armed conflict.[1]

Based on the 1951 Geneva Convention and the European directives on asylum, the French legal framework is enshrined in the Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum (Code de l’entrée, du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile) called CESEDA. Every person falling under the scope of Article 1 of the 1951 Convention or under the protection of the UNHCR should be granted refugee status according to Article L711-1 of the CESEDA. Further, if the person does not meet all the conditions for the refugee status but is facing a serious threat as mentioned above, s/he should receive subsidiary protection.

In seeking protection, fear of persecution should always be related to an ’oppressive‘ country which the person is fleeing. Protection is granted on the basis that the person cannot avail his/herself of the protection of the country in which s/he has nationality; when the person cannot avail his/herself of any nationality, the country of affiliation (pays de rattachement) – where the claimant is living – is considered. According to Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention, this subsidiary criterion can only be used if the person does not have a nationality. However, this notion should be understood broadly, as difficulties arise in determining nationality when claimants are not in possession of official travel or identity documents.  The National Court for Right of Asylum (Cour nationale du droit d’asile, herein after the Court) may consider some claimants as de facto stateless in order to examine their application on the “country of affiliation” basis. However, de jure statelessness can only be determined by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA).[2]
Regarding Palestinian refugees coming from Syria, France actually considers their request for asylum as a Syrian petition in accordance with the “country of affiliation” criterion. The Court takes into account that the Casablanca Protocol adopted by the Arab League in 1965 states that Palestinian refugees will not obtain the nationality of the host country in order to preserve the Palestinian people as an entity as well as their right of return.[3] The Court also highlights that obtaining a Palestinian passport is contingent upon the actual residence in the territory administered by the Palestinian Authority. However, the Oslo Agreement excludes Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Palestinian refugees in exile from the ability to obtain a Palestinian travel document. So despite the Casablanca Protocol, and because of the absence of legal identity documents attesting to the Palestinian nationality of Palestinian refugees, the Court assumes that the applicant cannot rely on his/her nationality “of origin” to seek protection and will then examine the applicant’s status (fears) with regard to the country of affiliation, which in this case is Syria.[4]

According to Eurostat, out of over 362,775 Syrian asylum applications in Europe in 2015, Germany received 158,655 (44 percent), Sweden 50,890 (14 percent),[5] and France only 4,625, which represents 1.3 percent of the applications overall.[6] According to the OFPRA, France has accepted 96 percent of the Syrian asylum applications it received that year, in comparison to 23 percent for all other nationalities.[7]

Considering the high rate of granting protection, one question remains: why do so few refugees choose to apply for asylum in France? The answer may be due to the following:
  1. Refugee families, including Palestinians families from Syria, may prefer to apply for asylum in countries where the community is already established, such as Germany or Sweden.
  2. The so-called ‘Jungle de Calais’ (the former self-built ‘camp’ on the French northern coast),[8] or the other self-built ‘camps’ in the streets of Paris have created a bad reputation for France in the matter of welcoming asylum seekers and migrants. Even if those camps were dismantled during the past year in order to relocate asylum seekers and migrants to ’reception centers,’ these centers lack adequate space to accommodate the numbers of refugees, forcing refugees and migrants to resettle in the street while waiting for an official asylum decision. France also lacks efficient integration programs for refugees.
  3. With the seventh highest unemployment rate in Europe (9.7 percent in October 2016[9]), France does not seem to be an ideal place to start a new life as a refugee in Europe.
  4. To bypass the Dublin system and to be able to apply for asylum in countries away from the southern coast of Europe, some asylum seekers choose to travel by plane towards non-European countries with a transit in a European country, so as to deposit an asylum claim while in transit in Europe. In order to limit this practice France requires Palestinian refugees and Syrian nationals to apply for a difficult to obtain “airport transit visa” - in violation of the right of asylum, the 1951 Convention and the Chicago Convention.[10] Without this visa, people would not be allowed to leave the plane and reach the international zone where they could claim asylum.[11]
  5. Even if OFPRA has granted international protection to 96 percent of Syrians or Palestinians coming from Syria seeking protection, France is known amongst the refugee population for its lengthy asylum claims process. In 2015, OFPRA tried to improve its welcome policy in France by drastically reducing this length from more than 18 months to three months.[12] However, it is hard to change a bad reputation when the bad living conditions persist. It remains difficult to submit an asylum claim in France: asylum seekers spend days in the so-called waiting zone in the airport waiting for the first appointment (registration of the asylum claim), and then have only 21 days after this registration to fill out the claim written in French - including a detailed description of their persecution - and send it to OFPRA.[13]

 Photo: Picture taken after the evacuation and destruction of the so-called “Jungle de Calais” camp[14]

As in many other European countries, France does not have a clear refugee policy in general and no policy at all regarding Palestinian refugees from Syria. On 20 September 2016, during the Summit for Refugees and Migrants, the French President François Hollande stated in front of the UN General Assembly that “At the same time [France] should insure [its] humanitarian duty, make the right of asylum prevail, and [it] should also control [its] border.”[15] This statement is indicative of the struggle in Europe – and particularly France - with the refugee dilemma.

As part of the UNHCR Resettlement Program, France accepted the resettlement of 500 refugees from Syria in 2014 and 2015, and 1,500 in 2016. To implement the program, representatives of OFPRA are travelling on ‘humanitarian missions’ to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon thus far,[16]  in order to ‘select’ the most vulnerable refugees and to ‘resettle’ them in France. At the beginning of 2015, 512 refugees from Syria benefited from this program. While UNHCR insisted on the criterion of vulnerability, each state is allowed to choose its own criteria and thus to select based on academic studies, special links with the future host country, etc. OXFAM requested that the European countries focus on the extreme vulnerability of Palestinian people in the ‘selection’ process.[17] The French government, whether through its official statements or asylum policy, has failed to address the exacerbated vulnerability of Palestinian refugees from Syria.

*Lisa Auer is a research intern at BADIL. After obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in Law from the Universities of Strasbourg (France) and Bergen (Norway), she recently concluded a Master’s Degree in Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law from the University of Pantheon-Assas in Paris, France.

1 Code de l’entrée, du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, Article L. 712-1.
2 Julian Fernandez and Caroline Laly-Chevalier, La determination du pays de rattachement du demandeur de protection, Droit d’asile – Etat des lieux et perspectives, éditions Pedone, 2015.
3 Cour nationale de droit d’asile, Décision No. 16011360, 12 October 2016. Available at:
4 Cour nationale de droit d’asile, Décision No. 14014878, 9 November 2015. Available at:
5 This low percentage is attributable to the fact that Sweden is the first hosting country to regard the number of refugees per capita. See: Le Monde,  Asile: plus de 360 000 réfugiés accueillis en 2015 en Europe, 21 April 2016. Available at:
6 Eurostat, Demandes d’asile dans les Etats membres de l’UE – Nombre record de plus de 1,2 million primo-demandeurs d’asile enregistrés en 2015, 4 March 2016. Available at:
7 OFPRA, Rapport d’activité OFPRA 2015, 13 May 2016.
8 The so-called “Jungle de Calais” was a wide self-built camp on the French northern coast, 25 kilometers away from the British southern coast. Migrants settled there for around twenty years in the hope of crossing the sea to the United Kingdom, where the current employment situation is better than in France. In September 2016, 9,000 people were registered in the camp and came mostly from Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. The living conditions were inhuman, and were becoming worse with the increase of the refugee crisis in Europe. Many people died crossing the “Channel Tunnel.” The camp was dismantled in October 2016 and all of its inhabitants are supposed to have been resettled in reception centers for asylum-seekers.
9 Toute l’Europe, Le taux de chomage en Europe (novembre 2016), 9 January 2017. Available at:
10 Chicago Convention, Annex 9, Signed in 1944, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, details among others the rights of the signatories in relation to air travel.

11 Caroline Lantero, Consécration du visa de transit aéroportuaire comme instrument de police de mise à distance des demandes d’asile, CE, ré, 15 février 2013, ANAFE et Gisti,  Combats pour les droits de l’homme (CPDH), 3 March 2013. Available at:

12 France Inter, La France boudée par les réfugiés syriens, 12 February 2016. Available at:
13 Forum réfugiés, Cosi, La procédure de demande d’asile expliquée, 13 January 2016. Available at:
14 Haydée Sabéran, A Calais, une jungle d’Etat pour les migrants. Picture taken by Aimée Thirio, Libération, 2 April 2015. Available at:
15 Speech delivered by the French President François Hollande during the Summit for Refugees and Migrants  in New York, 20 September 2016. Available at :
16 Rapport d’activité de l’OFPRA, 2014, 82.
17 OXFAM, Resettling 10 percent of Syrian Refugees – The commitment needed at the Geneva conference, Oxfam Briefing note, 29 March 2016. Available at: