How asylum decisions are made :
the institution as a moral agent
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Geneva Convention of 1951 institutionalized asylum-granting. In France, the National Court of Asylum examines appeals from applicants whose requests have been turned down by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The Court operates in a context where public discourse is increasingly likely to cast doubt on the validity of applications and where the Office’s application acceptance rate has fallen from nine-in-ten to one-in-ten in the last thirty years. We examine how changes in the moral economy of asylum-granting and the shift from trust to suspicion are reflected in local justice practices founded on the principles of political independence and decision fairness. Using the results of an eighteen-month-long observation and interview study, we analyze Court asylum application rapporteurs’ recommendations and Court rulings. Despite sociological differences between rapporteurs, their recommendations differ little, while divergences in perspective between magistrates are attenuated by the overall pressure of institutional procedures. The tension that thus develops between the ideals and norms of protection through asylum and policy injunctions and routine practices may be summed up by the impression that the more limited access to asylum is, the more firmly the asylum principle is defended.