French asylum-claims workers strike over new immigration law, workload

By Layli Foroudi

PARIS (Reuters) – Workers at France’s asylum claims office went on a rare strike on Tuesday, saying they were understaffed and overworked and that a new immigration law that is poised for a vote later in the day is set to make things worse.

“We are not machines – these are people in front of you and these are important decisions,” said Sabine Trapateau, a striking legal advisor for the asylum claims office, known as OFPRA.

On Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers in the upper house of parliament will formally vote in a law, largely influenced by the right, that will restrict the rights of migrants in the country.

The law, which has yet to be debated by the parliament’s lower house, proposes making it easier to deport non-nationals, restricting healthcare access, adding conditions for family reunification and removing automatic birthright citizenship.

“We are worried that this law is going make a fragile population – that we carry out interviews with every day – even more fragile,” said Anouk Lerais, a representative for CGT union at OFPRA.

Workers at OFPRA rarely go on strike and the last time they did so was in 2018, to oppose a law on immigration that was being passed.

OFPRA workers are asking that more staff be hired to help respond to asylum claims in a timely manner and to issue administrative documents, such as birth certificates, without which it would be difficult for the applicants to access housing and work.

Currently, a refugee whose asylum claim has been accepted must wait for one year for their administrative documents, due to delays in the issuing process, according to Lerais.

Regarding asylum claims, an amendment was adopted by lawmakers in the Senate, proposing the creation of kiosks in police stations at a local level, with the intention of speeding up asylum claims.

However, the workers on strike say this measure could reduce OFPRA’s independence from the police.

The CGT estimated that around a quarter of OFPRA workers took part in Tuesday’s strike.

(This story has been refiled to change Sabine Trapateau’s designation to ‘legal advisor’ from ‘legal councillor’ in paragraph 2, and to correct the spelling of ‘Lerais’ in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Bernadette Baum)