The decision of the French National Court of Asylum (CNDA) to consider Afghan applications through the lens of the UN Refugee Convention marks a change from the previous practice of granting most Afghans subsidiary protection under EU law. Afghans enjoying protection in France face significant “delays and inertia” as they seek to bring their families to safety. CNDA judges say “there are plenty of cases in which we are not free to decide ourselves”, calling the Court’s independence into question. 1,200 people have been evacuated from a camp in Paris, while human rights monitors recorded almost 300 evictions and thousands of cases of property destruction by police in Calais over the summer.

The CNDA announced on 30 August that “even if Afghanistan is no longer subject to indiscriminate violence” it would systematically examine all appeals from Afghans through the lens of refugee protection. Where the Refugee Convention does not apply, the Court will examine cases from the perspective of subsidiary protection. There are currently 2,000 pending appeals of Afghans in front of the Court, and Afghans have been the largest group seeking protection since 2018.  81% of Afghan applicants were granted protection in France in 2020, nine out of ten of which were granted subsidiary protection, a status that entails fewer rights, and shorter residence permits that those enjoyed by “Convention refugees”. However, some NGOs are concerned that this might in fact lower the threshold for the granting of protection by ending the quasi-automatic granting of subsidiary protection to Afghan nationals. ECRE member organisation Forum réfugiés-Cosi has called for the review of previous case law restricting the protection of Afghans and for rejected applicants to have their cases reviewed, while others demand prima facie refugee status for all Afghans.

Afghans already with status in France continue to face obstacles to be reunited with their families. Family reunification procedures, already severely delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, continue to accumulate “delays and inertia” according to the NGO Cimade, despite the desperate situation faced by the relatives of refugees in Afghanistan. There are 3,500 pending family reunification applications from Afghans, and the average waiting time for family to be brought to France is 3.5 years. Afghan nationals benefiting from subsidiary protection have filed cases with the Council of State asking for the procedure to be adapted in light of their situation. The most recent of these was rejected however on 7 September, with the court saying: “there is no need to urge the administration to take additional measures” to issue family visas. As reported in the ELENA Weekly Legal Update, further case asking for Afghans with family members in France to be evacuated from the Taliban-controlled country was dismissed on 25 August. Between January and July 2021, only 431 family reunification visas were issued to Afghans.

Speaking to investigative journalists, judges of the CNDA said “pressure” from their superiors negatively affects their independence. They reported being asked to revise or delay positive decisions granting protection. Some suspected court officials that interfered ultra vires in judgments of having third-party interests, though the President of the Court rejected allegations of external pressure. Judges also raised concerns about the use of inadmissibility criteria to reject cases “in bulk”.  These are used to dispense with manifestly unfounded cases by denying a hearing to people arriving from “safe” countries, making a second application with no new information, or having economic motives. In 2020, 33.5% of cases were dismissed as inadmissible with CNDA judges reporting of political pressure to refuse to assess the merits of these cases.

On 4 September, more than 1,200 migrants that were camped out at the Parc André-Citroën in Paris to demand decent housing, were taken to reception centres.  NGO Utopia 56 said that the people, that had been living on the street for “weeks, months, and even years”, included 200 children. At least 11 people evacuated were then placed in detention, some separated from their partners and children. Others were arrested and asked to leave the French territory, with NGOs denouncing such evacuations as a “trap”.  Meanwhile in Calais, human rights monitors continue to report repressive, securitised policing of makeshift camps.  278 evictions took place over the summer, with camps raided by French police every 48 hours. 1169 tents, 972 tarpaulins, and 196 bags with personal belongings were confiscated and destroyed over the summer. Evictions also took place in Montpelier, where 106 migrants were evicted when a shantytown was bulldozed at the end of August.

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Photo by Radek Homola on Unsplash 

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.