Academic journal article Migration Letters

A Matter of Value Exploring What Underlies Adjudication in the French Court of Asylum

Academic journal article Migration Letters

A Matter of Value Exploring What Underlies Adjudication in the French Court of Asylum

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the decision-making process in the French Court of Asylum, which reviews appeals about decisions of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, granting or refusing refugee status. I consider the relationship between the substantial refusals of the claims and the adjudicators' conception of what asylum is. Drawing on data collected between 2009 and 2011 over 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork at the Court, I argue that refugee status is imagined as an ideal and that it is therefore very difficult to consider real claimants worthy of it.

Keywords: Decision-making process, asylum courtroom, suspicion, values, ethnography.

Introduction

After the signature of the Geneva Convention of 1951, which provided a formal definition of a refugee as a person who is outside his or her country and has a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion"1, two institutions were created in France to deal with this population: the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) and the Appeal Commission for Refugees, which in 2007 became the French Court of Asylum (Cour nationale du droit d'asile). The OFPRA spent the first few years both organizing the asylum system and managing the large influx of European refugees, while the Appeal Commission was a very small institution whose major concern was to build a coherent jurisprudential corpus. In 1971, France ratified the 1967 New York Protocol that removed the geographical and temporal restrictions of the legal definition, opening the possibility for hosting refugees from all over the world.

When in July 1974 the French government decided to suspend labour migration, applicants for refugee status continued to be admitted to the territory. Since then the OFPRA's acceptance rate has dropped dramatically. Forty years ago most of the foreigners applying for asylum would be granted refugee status; today most of the candidates will be rejected. At the same time, there was an important growth in the number of applications.2 This increase is often interpreted as derived from being an indirect means of obtaining a residence permit. However, until the suspension of labour immigradon, as Spire (2004) has shown, it was easier and faster to get a work permit than refugee status so many potential candidates for protection under the Convention did not claim asylum as they already had legal residence in France.

Today a large majority of applicants are refused protection under the Geneva Convention or the Subsidiary protection3 by the OFPRA and by the appeal Court, whose structure and size have been developed. In 2011, the OFPRA acceptance rate was 11%, and the Court's 17.7%.4 Issues of asylum, and more generally those concerning migration, have become highly politically contested in France and elsewhere in Europe. Public discourse associates asylum seekers with "bogus refugees" who come not for political reasons but for purely economic motives. Although many scholars have argued that the distinction between political and economic causes of exile is difficult to sustain (Casde and Miller 2009; Schuster 2003; Zolberg 1983), this interpretation appears in most political discourse (Kobelinsky 2012). Contemporary representations and practices regarding asylum are undermined by suspicion (Daniel and Knudsen 1995, Bohmer and Shuman 2008, D'Halluin 2012, Valluy 2009).

In this article, I examine the decision-making process in the French Court of Asylum, which reviews appeals about the decisions of the OFPRA, granting or refusing refugee status and subsidiary protection. I consider the relationship between the substantial refusals of the claims and the adjudicators' conception of what asylum is. I argue that refugee status is imagined as an ideal and that it is therefore very difficult to consider real claimants worthy of it. …

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