The words

What is an asylum seeker ?

The word "refugee" should not be confused with the word “asylum seeker”. An asylum seeker is a person who submits a request for asylum in order to acquire refugee status. A refugee has been an asylum seeker, but not all asylum seekers are recognised as refugees.

Demandeuse d’asile congolaise dans la zone d’attente de Zapi 3 située près de l’aéroport de Roissy Charles de Gaulle, 23 décembre 2004
Congolese asylum seeker in the Zapi 3 waiting zone near Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, December 23, 2004 © Olivier Aubert / Musée national de l'histoire et des cultures de l'immigration

The Geneva Convention (1951) does not call the sovereignty of states into question: each country is free to interpret the text of the Convention with different degrees of restrictiveness. Hence, it may express reservations about the application of a given article of the Convention on its own territory and according to its own legislation with regard to right of residence, labour law or nationality code.
In France, requests are processed by the OFPRA (Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides) initially, or the CNDA (Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile) subsequently, if the asylum seeker appeals OFPRA’s decision.

Asylum in France

Several sources provide data on asylum, using different means of documentation (Eurostat, Ministry of the Interior, OFII and OFPRA).
In 2019, 138,420 initial asylum requests were registered by OFPRA, (cf. 123,665 in 2018 and 96,424 for 2020, a drop doubtless linked to the Covid pandemic) and 103,000 in 2021.
In 2019, 10,258 asylum seekers came from Afghanistan, 6,198 from Bangladesh and 5,760 from Georgia. Guinea, the first of the African countries, (5,142), ranks fourth just behind Albania and ahead of Côte d’Ivoire. With Pakistan, Haiti, Mali and Nigeria, these 10 nationalities represented 51.7% of asylum requests in 2019.
In 2021, asylum seekers from Afghanistan had constituted, since 2018, the leading source of initial asylum requests (12,500), followed by individuals from Côte d’Ivoire (5,300), Bangladesh (5,100), Guinea (4,600) and Turkey (4,500).
Note that in 2020, 1,982 requests were submitted by Ukrainian citizens. Until the early 1980s, between 80% and over 90% of asylum requests in France received a favourable response. Today, as a result of policies aimed at controlling migration flows, only 26% of requests were accepted in 2019, 22% in 2020 and 25.7% in 2021 (source: OFPRA – see figures).

European comparisons

Requests for asylum in Europe increased in 2019 after three consecutive years of decrease. With 743,425 requests registered in all 28 states of the European Union, the increase is very noticeable (+ 10.9%) and indicates a reversal of the trend. The increase in asylum requests primarily concerns Spain, which is seeing its flow of asylum-seekers double, mainly due to the situation in Venezuela. Spain thus becomes the third European country in terms of number of requests for asylum after Germany and France. With a 9.9% increase, France falls slightly below the average for the EU. Germany keeps its first place (165,615 requests), although demand has been dropping consistently since 2016 and has returned to a level slightly below that of 2014 (202,645).  The majority of European countries have experienced an increase in asylum requests, generally between 10 and 20% for the largest countries. Two exceptions: Germany and Italy have recorded a drop in requests for asylum, but their share is still comparatively high.

The general level of initial protection (refugee status, subsidiary or other protection, according to countries) in 2019 in the European Union was stable, at 38.8%. However, there are major variations in admission levels according to countries. Hence, the United Kingdom, Greece or Spain have some of the highest admission levels (respectively 52.7%, 53.1% and 66.2%), whereas France accepts 24.7% of asylum seekers, in other words a level 14 points lower than the European average. Countries like Poland or the Czech Republic show much lower admission levels at 13.3% and 9.7% (source, Ministry of the Interior). These data should shift radically in 2022 due to the Ukrainian crisis and the number of Ukrainian refugees admitted into Poland, along with Moldavia and Romania.
In 2020 according to Eurostat, asylum seekers arriving in Europe came from almost 150 countries. 472,000 requests, of which 417,000 were initial applications, were introduced into the European Union (EU), i.e. a 32% reduction driven by the socio-economic situation compared to 2019. A growing share of asylum seekers are arriving from visa-exempt countries (26% of first-time requesters in 2020) and are entering the EU legally. They are arriving from Venezuela (7.3% of all initial requests), Colombia (7.0%), Georgia (1.6%), Peru (1.5%) or Honduras (1.4%).

In 2020, most initial requests were submitted in Germany (102,500), Spain (86,400), France (81,700), Greece (37,900) and Italy (21,300). When compared to the population of each country, the largest number of initial asylum requests was submitted in Cyprus (792 per 100,000 inhabitants), followed by Malta (468), Greece (354), Spain (182), Slovenia (165), Austria (150), Germany (123), France (121) and Italy (36).

Mustapha Harzoune, 2022