The day after the knife attack on six people, including four children, which took place on Thursday June 8, in Annecy (Haute-Savoie), the suspect’s custody was extended. Arrested by the police just after the attack, Abdelmasih H., 31, was homeless. He was granted asylum in Sweden in 2013, but was later denied Swedish citizenship. He had joined France at the end of 2022, where he applied for asylum in November.

While an asylum reform is underway within the European Union (EU), several right-wing and far-right political leaders have reacted to this attack, such as Eric Ciotti, president of the Republicans, who lamented, Thursday on France 2, “a catastrophic management of asylum in Europe”. This fundamental right nevertheless responds to highly regulated procedures that do not prohibit travel within the Schengen area.

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What are the rules of the right of asylum in Europe?

Anyone fleeing war and persecution in their country can apply for asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. Within the EU, the policy on the right to asylum is common and makes it possible to grant two forms of protection: refugee status and subsidiary protection. The first status is granted to foreigners persecuted in their country because of their religion, their nationality, their membership in a social group or their action for freedom. With regard to subsidiary protection, it is obtained if the person proves that he was threatened in his country because of an internal or international armed conflict.

Currently, the Dublin III regulation of 2013 determines that only one country deals with the request: the one through which the refugee entered, or the one which granted him a visa or a residence permit, except in special cases. such as family reunification.

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Once refugee status has been acquired, the duration of residence in the territory depends on the country. In France, a person can obtain a ten-year residence permit if they are recognized as refugees or a one-year temporary residence permit if they benefit from subsidiary protection.

The suspect in the Annecy attack had fled Syria for Turkey after the start of the civil war in his country in 2011. He then went to Sweden in 2013, where he obtained subsidiary protection and a permanent residence permit in November of the same year.

Can you travel elsewhere in Europe when you have refugee status?

Refugees who have been granted asylum in a member country of the Schengen area do not need a visa for a stay of less than three months in these countries: the EU States, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Beyond the ninety days, refugees wishing to stay in this country must apply for a visa from the embassy of the country concerned.

In France, for example, a refugee can apply for a refugee travel document. This official pass, valid for five years, indicates the country or countries to which the person is prohibited from traveling, usually the country from which they originate and other countries where fears of persecution may have been established. However, this travel document does not authorize the refugee to work or settle permanently in an EU country.

Abdelmasih H., who benefits from subsidiary protection, was able to legally leave Sweden in 2022, where his ex-partner and his 3-year-old child still reside. He traveled to Italy in May 2022, then to Switzerland in October, before finally reaching France at the end of 2022.

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Do you have the right to apply for asylum in several countries?

“Yes, but such requests are in principle inadmissible”, explains Serge Slama, professor of public law at the University of Grenoble-Alpes. Refugee status, like subsidiary protection, is only valid in the European state that granted it.

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The general rule is clear: EU Member States assume that protection is effective elsewhere in Europe, but applications are still considered individually, as exceptions may exist. It is then up to the asylum seeker to show that his rights are not respected in the country where he obtained his first protection. In rare cases, for example concerning Chechens in Poland, it was considered that the protection was not ensured.

While he already benefited from subsidiary protection from Sweden, the suspect in the Annecy attack had filed asylum applications in 2022 in three other countries: Italy, Switzerland and France. On November 28, 2022, Abdelmasih H. had filed a file in Grenoble.

If his refugee status in Sweden gave him the right to travel in the Schengen area, in theory, he could not stay more than three months in France after his arrival in November, i.e. until February. But his asylum application submitted to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) at the end of November allowed him to stay in France while his application was processed. Indeed, all asylum seekers have the right to remain in the territory throughout the procedure, until a definitive answer is served on them.

Abdelmasih H. was able to stay legally on French territory for almost seven months, until the Ofpra notified him on June 4 that his asylum application was inadmissible on the grounds that he benefited “effective protection under asylum in a Member State of the European Union”, as required by law. In an irregular situation for four days at the time of the knife attack on June 8, he could have been handed over to the Swedish authorities, but this is rarely the case in such a short time.

Asked about the link between the refusal of the asylum request and the acting out of the aggressor four days later, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, mentioned a “disturbing coincidence”.