Emmanuel Macron’s government will on Wednesday propose toughening France’s immigration and asylum laws amid vocal criticism from human rights groups in a move that will test the unity of his left-and-right majority.
The bill unveiled on Wednesday will double the time for which undocumented migrants can be detained to 90 days and shorten the deadlines to apply for asylum, from 120 days to 90 days after a migrant’s arrival in France. It will also make the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines.
The new bill aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six, while providing help to those who want to go home.
“Why do we want to reduce to six months? Because for those for whom asylum is granted, it is better to be able to begin integrating into French society as early as possible,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters at the Élysée Palace after Wednesday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“But for those deported, in six months you haven’t lost your family roots, you haven’t lost contact with your country, and so it is better that the time limit be shorter…,” Collomb continued.
Migrant charities have blasted the bill as repressive, saying the emphasis on quicker processing times may make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to defend their rights. They have, for example, criticised the notion of cutting in half – to 15 days – the timeframe provided to appeal a rejection decision, saying it leaves the would-be appellant little time to secure a lawyer.
Staff at France’s asylum court and the Ofpra refugee protection office are on strike Wednesday over the law unions have blasted as “an unquestionable break with France’s tradition of asylum”.
“We’re asking for it to be withdrawn,” said the Cimade charity, which works with migrants and asylum-seekers.
“We’re not even in favour of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”
The government says it wants to be both firm and fair on immigration, and the bill will also make it easier for minors to get asylum and will aim to halve the time it takes for authorities to process any asylum request.
Disquiet in majority ranks
But while Macron’s parliamentary majority, a mix of lawmakers who have their roots both in right-wing and left-wing parties, has so far been largely united, the government’s migration plans have triggered disquiet in its own ranks.
Matthieu Orphelin, a lawmaker from Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party, on Tuesday said increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, adding that he intended to table amendments to modify the bill.
Another lawmaker from Macron’s party, Sonia Krimi, has accused the government of “playing with people’s fears” with its migration reform. “All foreigners in France are not terrorists, all foreigners do not cheat with social welfare,” she told Collomb in parliament in December.
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The government has already had to abandon a controversial proposal to deport people to a third country deemed “safe”.
And a separate law on taking in “Dublin” migrants those whose asylum claims are registered in other EU countries sparked a tense debate in parliament last week, with some among Macron’s own LREM party criticising it.
“We are in danger of normalising locking people up,” said LREM lawmaker Florence Granjus.
The bill might however prove popular with voters. A BVA opinion poll earlier this month showed that 63 percent of French voters consider there are too many immigrants in France.
The number of people filing asylum requests in France hit a record in 2017, topping 100,000, up 17 percent on 2016. About 36 percent of applicants were granted refugee status.
“The bill is completely balanced,” Collomb insisted last month. “It works on two guiding principles: France must welcome refugees, but it cannot welcome all economic migrants.”
The minister has come under fire in recent weeks after he ordered immigration agents to go into homeless shelters to check people’s residency status.
Charities have taken the government to France’s highest administrative court over the policy, which they say breaches people’s right to seek shelter without fear of questions being asked.