France: Immigration Reforms Inadequate

Parliament Should Strengthen Safeguards in Expulsion Cases.

( HRW ) - The French parliament should improve the safeguards in the new immigration bill for those at risk of return to persecution and torture, Human Rights Watch urged in a letter to deputies and senators released today.

"The government is right to act quickly to fix the problem, but its proposal will only help a fraction of those at risk," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It's now up to parliament to fully implement the European Court's ruling by making in-country appeals the rule rather than the exception."

Parliament is set to debate on September 18 a government bill to reform the nation's immigration and asylum code. Among the proposals is a plan to allow certain failed asylum seekers to remain in France until a judge rules on an appeal. However, many others whom national authorities seek to swiftly eject will remain at risk of mistreatment upon return before their appeal can be heard.

The reform, which would apply only to asylum seekers detained at borders, is in response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in April that the lack of an automatic in-country appeal for asylum seekers in France violates human rights law.

Because of its narrow scope, the reform would fail to protect many of those who fear torture, ill-treatment, or persecution under the Refugee Convention if returned to their countries of origin. Failed asylum seekers whose applications were considered manifestly unfounded or who come from countries deemed to be safe and those who are considered threats to national security could still be expelled while their appeals to the Refugee Appeals Board are pending. Terrorism suspects who appeal Interior Ministry expulsion orders would also continue to have no have access to an automatic in-country appeal.

The European Court ruling is not the first time that France has drawn international criticism for its unsatisfactory approach to protecting against return to abuse. In 2005 and again in 2007, the UN Committee Against Torture determined that France had violated the torture convention because of its lack of effective safeguards in expulsion cases involving risk of return to torture and ill-treatment. In both cases, France ignored requests from the committee to delay expulsion until the committee had reviewed them. The most recent case involved a French-Tunisian man, Adel Tebourski, who was stripped of his French citizenship and deported in August 2006 after serving time in prison for a terrorism-related conviction. Two months after he was deported, the Refugee Appeals Board ruled that he had had a well-founded fear of persecution and should not have been sent to Tunisia.

"Both the UN and the European Court have sent a clear message that France's safeguards aren't up to scratch," said Cartner. "The best way to protect people against unsafe returns is to let them stay in France until their claims have been fully examined."

In June 2007, Human Rights Watch published a report on France, "In the Name of Prevention: Insufficient Safeguards in National Security Removals." Human Rights Watch concluded that France's administrative procedures for expelling and deporting terrorism suspects lack adequate safeguards to protect against rights violations on return. One of its key recommendations was the creation of a right to an automatic in-country appeal.

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