After six years at the head of Ofpra, Pascal Brice publishes at Fayard a book where he tells the profound transformation of the asylum system against the backdrop of the crisis of reception in Europe.
Why did you return to your mandates in a book?
I wanted to make known what I lived, the amount of commitment, intelligence, generosity in the reception of refugees, but also the questions and concerns that exist in this country. I wanted to leave a record of what was built collectively and to give to feel the real life of asylum seekers, refugees, and those who accompany them.
This book is anything but a moral lesson. It is a kind of lucid optimistic exercise: to advance in the reception of refugees, we must start from what is happening. These questions have an impact on the social body. Sometimes they are the same ones who go from doubt to enthusiasm.
You have harsh words against bureaucracy …
One of the obstacles to this country's ability to innovate, to create, is technocracy. It prevents. I hope this book can also be read as a tribute to the officials. I am one of them, I am proud of it, and I wanted to make known the commitment of these men and women who do a great job, but who are under the weight of the technocracy, of those who do not go out not Parisian offices.
You write that Ofpra's mission can not depend on diplomatic considerations or migration policy. Have officials suggested the opposite?
In the public mind, the confusion between refugees and economic migrants is general. It can be so in public policies. Arriving in 2012, we came out of a period, with the Ministry of National Identity, where we had everything mixed. The credibility of Ofpra had suffered deeply. From the moment we have very restrictive migration policies, the right of asylum is hard to survive.
These two terms have also been years of struggle against the permanent temptation of some to interfere in the work of Ofpra, or to say "The right of asylum is not good, it makes economic migrants come". It's deadly. It's rarely anyone who calls you to call you, it's more insidious: it's comments, questions … that come mostly from the Ministry of the Interior, which is also accountable for the political migration.
You mention a "scrambling effect" …
In 2015, the law enshrined the independence of OFPRA: it is fundamental to the sanctuary of the right of asylum. It is time to question the governance of asylum policy. The Ministries of Housing, Social Affairs, etc. should be reintroduced into the management of these policies.
The integration of refugees and its improvement gave rise to a parliamentary report last year but there was not much left …
We have made progress on the idea that we need to integrate them better. The will exists, it must be translated by acts. Awareness is more problematic about access to asylum applications. While the President has set a clear roadmap, we are often on dissuasive realities. We dragged the requests to the prefecture for accommodation … Leaving people in the street is unworthy, it is not effective, it fuels the rejection. The Dublin system (according to which an asylum seeker must apply in the first country of entry into the European Union, ed) is also a clear failure.
In this connection, you speak of "administrative nil worthy of Kafka". Should the Dublin procedure be abolished, and by what means can it be replaced?
Yes. Greece has been under tremendous political and social pressure, Italy has tilted over because of that … It's time to stop this madness, where people are kept waiting for months for nothing! The prefecture officials spend days on files that do not succeed, it's irrational.
What to do instead? The elements are on the European negotiating table: developing protection missions in third countries, such as Chad, Niger, Turkey; to build a system of mutual recognition on common criteria of asylum decisions between European countries. For this, we need to create an independent European agency. There is also a need to structure a system of asylum training centers upon arrival in Europe.
When we see people waiting for days on a humanitarian boat permission to land, we feel that trust does not reign in Europe …
That's why we have multiplied missions in Spain, Italy, Malta, so as to build a system and show that it is possible, even if the mistrust is strong. There must be a solution for both the unity of Europe and the right of asylum.
If we are there, it is not for nothing: the Europeans have been unable to establish an asylum-friendly, efficient and orderly system. That there are political instrumentalizations is obvious. Countries like France and Germany have to show that the egoism that prevailed with the Dublin procedure is no longer appropriate. Italians must open the ports and assume their responsibilities, the countries of destination must show solidarity.
You also talk about the need for OFPRA agents to find the right distance with the stories of asylum seekers?
I have long said "Good distance"and one day someone told me "But no it's not the right distance, it's the good proximity". At the same time, you must be very close, in kindness, listening and welcoming, and at the same time not too close, otherwise you can not help. When you listen to Yazidi women who have been sex slaves in Iraq, it's hard! Professional practice analysis groups and psychological support systems were set up.
Is it common for people to lie to get asylum?
No, I would not say it's common. There are special cases, people who have things to hide, those who have been smugglers, torturers, jihadists … It exists but in a very small proportion. There is no complacency: they can not be protected.
It happens, however, that some are led to give stories that do not match the reality of what they have lived. I never say that people lie. The job of protection officers is to identify and make it clear to these people that their interest is to be spontaneous. That's just how Ofpra can rule.
What is your view on the French management of the 2015 crisis?
Europe collectively failed. We pay the price. In 2015, the answer was in a scattered order. The Italians and the Greeks did not take their responsibilities, the others did not stand together. I have unbounded admiration for what happened in Germany, but it lasted six months, and there was a boomerang effect. It is true that France has never been at the heart of this asylum crisis.
You have known two presidents and six ministers of the interior. Were the relationships you had with them very different? How do you rate their appetite for asylum?
I do not know if I really want to go into these considerations … What I see is that there has been progress. The law of 2015 was important, the shelters in Calais were very much in the action of Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve. I also welcome the decision of François Hollande, in the aftermath of the 2015 attacks, to continue to welcome Syrian refugees. He was brave. I was less fascinated by his move to Calais just before the shelter where he said "Everything disappears". Emmanuel Macron … I know it attentive and kind to what the Ofpra did. The sanctuary of the right of asylum in its letter to the French is also positive, even if it is now necessary to implement its roadmap.
You led the Ofpra six years. Would you have liked to continue?
In a democracy, public servants do not own their jobs. I was available for a complementary mission, but I also got the most out of what I could do in the current system of asylum governance.
So you think you have not paid for something, not being renewed?
I do not know if I pay for something, but what is certain is that when you say that Ofpra is independent, that's all, you can actually create some hostility. It's rather flattering.
Have you changed in these six years?
At first, I was very "right to asylum, just the right to asylum". My thinking has evolved. The right to asylum is not enough. We must also open the reflection on migration policy, but talk about it normally, without hysteria or prejudices. Do not think that people get up every morning thinking about it. There are also situations of humanitarian distress that are not taken into account by the right to asylum, especially on climate issues.
Pascal Brice, On the asylum line, ed. Fayard, 267 pages. 19 €.