The camp in Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk was destroyed this week after a fire broke out, injuring at least 10 people. The destruction of the camp, which hosted between 1,000 and 1,500 people, many arriving after the dismantlement of the Calais camp last year, comes as another reminder of the persisting challenges faced by those seeking to access the asylum procedure in France.

According to the recently published OFPRA annual report, France was the third top destination of asylum seekers in Europe last year, with a total 85,726 asylum applications registered in addition to more than 20,000 cases placed under the Dublin procedure to be transferred to other countries. Most claims continue to be registered in Paris and the surrounding region of Ile-de-France.

Severe obstacles hindering access to the asylum procedure have been linked to “silent deterrence tactics” on the part of French authorities across the country, to prevent increases in the number of applications submitted in the country. These often take the form of serious delays in registering applications at the Prefectures’ “single desks”, reaching up to 30 days in Paris, 45 days in Lyon or even 60 days in Seine Saint Denis. Further, despite the opening of 8,703 new asylum accommodation places, the national reception system remains insufficient, with many people left with nowhere to sleep. Media reports that the Dunkirk camp had been increasingly overcrowded since the closure of the Calais makeshift camp. Outright deterrence is however also proactively pursued. In the département of Alpes-Maritimes, new entrants are pushed back to the Italian border without having the opportunity to submit an asylum application. This practice is in clear contradiction with France’s legal obligations to register asylum applications or to follow the rules of the Dublin procedure when another country is considered responsible. A recent ruling of the Administrative Tribunal of Nice recalled these duties and sanctioned the refusal of the Prefecture of Alpes-Maritimes to register the claims of persons entering from Italy as a severe and manifest violation of the right to asylum.

Disregard of the Dublin rules in such cases is also at odds with France’s commitment to a rigorous implementation of the Dublin system. The French Prefectures issued a total 25,963 outgoing requests in 2016, more than doubling the number of requests sent during the previous year (11,657). These figures confirm France as one of the main operators of the Regulation across Europe, far ahead of Switzerland, Sweden and Italy. However, despite the French eagerness to request Dublin transfers just 293 were in fact carried, making up less than 5% of the total number of requests sent to other countries. The majority of Dublin requests (3,955) and transfers (235) originated from the département of Pas-de-Calais.

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Photo: Grande-Synthe camp prior to its destruction, (cc) Harry Wood