On June 18th 2014, the French ERN national network focal points and SHARE partners France Terre d’Asile and Forum Réfugiés-Cosi hosted a meeting on the French resettlement and humanitarian admission programme for Syrian refugees. The meeting was hosted in the city of Lyon, and attended by governmental organisations including the French office for the protection of refugees and stateless persons (OFPRA) and the French office for immigration and integration (OFII), French non-governmental organisations involved in regional reception programmes including Adoma (Isère), Coallia, Entraide Pierre Valdo and Isard Cos, as well as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR.
Background and purpose of the meeting
The background to the meeting was the decision of the French government to admit 500 Syrian refugees under an ad-hoc resettlement and humanitarian admission programme, arrivals for which started in January 2014. Building on the experience gained in the reception of these refugees, the meeting aimed to exchange information and practice between all organisations involved in the programme, and to identify challenges for future arrivals. Participants also discussed ways to improve the French annual resettlement programme based on lessons learned from the admission of Syrian refugees. The regular French resettlement programme has been implemented since 2009, and comprises consideration of 100 dossier cases (approximately 300 persons) for resettlement by the French government each year.
Topics and interventions
The policy framework for and practical implementation of both admission programmes for Syrian refugees were presented by representatives of UNHCR and OFPRA. Both organisations welcomed the modifications applied to the existing resettlement programme, which have allowed for enhanced national coordination and simplified and expedited identification and processing of Syrian refugees. In contrast to the regular resettlement programme, where OFPRA conducts Refugee Status Determination based on additional interviews upon arrival in France, the updated and detailed information in UNHCR dossiers on Syrian refugees has enabled quick decision-making based solely on the dossiers. For the selection of refugees eligible for humanitarian admission OFPRA has, for the first time, implemented selection missions. Two missions were conducted in Egypt and Lebanon earlier this year and a third mission is scheduled for September 2014. IOM France contributed information on procedures prior to the refugees departure to France, including cooperation on exit and entry visas with national authorities, travel arrangements, medical and fit-to-fly checks and, for groups of more than 15 people, pre-departure Cultural Orientation sessions. Other actors were particularly interested in practices regarding the sharing of information, including medical data, as well as the information available for cultural orientation and expectation management.
A representative of OFII introduced and reflected on the option of a reception programme specific to resettled refugees as opposed to their accessing the national reception scheme for asylum seekers, and discussed the advantages and challenges for both options with conference participants. Three organisations operating regional reception programmes in France - Adoma, INSAIR 38, and Coallia - added to this discussion with an introduction to their activities, focusing on good practices and challenges in the ongoing reception of Syrian refugees. While all three programmes pointed out positive aspects, for example a strong involvement of social landlords and enhanced coordination between actors at the local, regional and national levels, a common factor in their contributions was a lack of information-sharing, both with regard to managing refugees' expectations and in terms of the extent of information about new arrivals forwarded to local actors at the pre-arrival stage.
With the benefit of lessons learned from the reception of Syrian refugees, participants reflected on several key challenges for the annual resettlement programme, including the currently long time periods between identification and arrival and the lack of consistency between the different regional reception programmes operating in France.