The French authorities denied the right of legal residence for a Syrian activist in France

Press release
18 November 2020
France – Lebanon

France rejects Ms. Ayat Ahmed’s asylum request based on inaccurate and unconfirmed testimonies submitted by a relative to the French authorities

On 17 November 2020, Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) submitted a complaint to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council regarding the French authorities’ refusal to grant the right to legal residency to the activist Ayat Ahmad.

Summary of the case submitted:

Ms. Ayat Ahmad is a Syrian human rights activist who has previously worked with local civil society organizations in Syria and with international human rights organizations. She has also submitted her testimony against perpetrators of war crimes in Syria before the International Federation for Human Rights and then at the Central Office for the Fight Against Crimes, Humanity Genocide and War Crimes (OCLCH) in Paris. French authorities refused Ms. Ahmad’s asylum application based on inaccurate and unverified testimonies submitted by one of her relatives to the French authorities.

Ms. Ahmad was committed to the activities of the peaceful movement; she had participated in peaceful demonstrations and had been engaged in political work and had been actively assisting residents whose homes were destroyed during the clashes between the Syrian forces and the armed opposition. She was arrested and detained three times between 2009 and 2012 by the Syrian security forces, where she was beaten and tortured during the detention period and was then kidnapped by a non-governmental armed faction in Damascus in 2012. Following this incident, she left for Turkey in 2013 where she continued her activities in women rights support and working with various organizations. In 2015, she moved to France with a long-term visa obtained via the French consulate in Istanbul, through the asylum application mechanism available at the French embassies where the latter investigate applications for several months before the granting an asylum visa.

While residing in France, a dispute arose between her and a relative, and the latter filed a complaint with the French authorities after leaking pictures of Ms. Ahmad, veiled, and carrying a weapon along with documents proving that she had received money, which was used to help Syrian victims in the areas she was active in, however, the French authorities considered that these documents indicate that Ms. Ahmad was financing terrorism, without any evidence validating this suspicion.

When Ms. Ahmad was questioned by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless people (OFPRA), she clarified that these pictures were taken in the context of celebrating achievements made by the Free Syrian Army at the time, and that the funds were used for food aid and activist support for residents in destroyed Syrian areas. OFPRA did not find these claims convincing, despite the lack of evidence proving that this money was sent in support of terrorist groups, and OFPRA subsequently adopted a decision to refuse asylum along with a deportation order for her and her family. Ms. Ahmad filed an appeal with the French National Court of Asylum; though, the latter did not look into the case closely and refused to grant asylum and protection for her and her children.

However, due to her political opinions, secular democratic ideas and activities, and the successive and multiple arrests of Ms. Ahmed – by the security services of the Syrian authorities and an armed faction controlling the Ghouta region at the time – she is at risk of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and torture by the Syrian authorities and opposition factions in the case she is deported to Syria. Even if she were to be deported to Turkey instead, (Considering she crossed through Turkey while travelling to France) she is still at risk of being deported to Syria, as the Turkish authorities are arbitrarily deporting Syrian refugees to Syria, as well as, adopting strict restrictions on legal residency conditions in Turkey.

Thus, we urge the French authorities to reconsider and review their decision against Ms. Ahmad, which is not based on solid and verified evidence. We also call on the French Government to respect its obligations under international conventions, especially with regard to the principle of non-refoulement and the protection of refugees.

Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) is a non-governmental organization based in Beirut and Paris, it focuses on monitoring the Syrian refugee human rights situation in Lebanon and publishes periodic updates on general violations as well as conducts continuous studies on specific collective cases. 

ACHR seeks to improve the human rights situation in Lebanon and concentrates its efforts on advocacy with the aim of influencing policies and practices of governmental and non-governmental entities working on refugee issues and responsible for their protection. Submission of complaints to the Special Rapporteurs is considered an essential aspect of ACHR’s work in advocacy and awareness activities on human rights violations in Lebanon. 

The complaint was sent to:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Mary Lawlor;
  • The Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Prof. Nils Melzer.