How France is failing to protect foreigners’ rights

France is failing to uphold fundamental rights of foreigners living in the country, according to a report by the country's Ombudsman for human rights.

How France is failing to protect foreigners' rights
Photo: AFP

A “logic of suspicion” towards foreigners impinges upon even the most basic rights of those not born in France, from asylum seekers trying to enter the country, to foreigners already living in France and suffering from discrimination. 

These are the findings of a damning report published on Monday by France's Défenseur des droits, an Ombudsman tasked with protecting the rights of French citizens.

Jacques Toubon, the Défenseur des droits, urged France to tackle the “preconceived ideas” and “myths” about foreigners which lead to discrimination, such as the idea of the “French identity” being under threat by mass migration. 

The first part of the 305-page report focussed on the foreigners entering the country and the issuing of French visas, while the second part examined the rights of those foreigners already living in France.

“No historical period of immigration, however intense, has changed the basis for the common Republican values,” said the report, adding: “Immigration is essential for the construction of France”.

The Ombudsman was critical of the newly made EU-Turkey deal on refugees, and criticized France for reducing legal migration channels in the midst of the Syrian crisis.

It claims that there had been “violations of the law” in issuing visas and barriers to the right to seek asylum at the border, also argued that those seeking asylum were “deprived of rights” in waiting areas and forced to wait for “excessive” lengths of time for their claims to be processed.

The report argued that even the vocabulary used by the media and the French public to refer to migrants led to “discredit and suspicion” of those trying to move to France, by creating distinctions “between 'good' refugees and 'bad' economic migrants”.

Toubon highlighted the plight of unaccompanied child refugees and the “worrying” lack of a specific procedure to help them, saying: “These minors should be protected unconditionally – which is not always the case.”

The report argued that the suspicion towards foreigners affects not only France’s immigration policy, but also the everyday life of foreigners living in France, denouncing “the measurable gap between the proclamation of rights and their effectiveness.”

As well as “illegal practices”, Toubon points out that different interpretations of the law, or limiting criteria not related to nationality, can also limit the access of non-nationals to basic services. He called on the Interior Minister to intervene and “prevent the spread of divergent interpretations of the law” across the country at a local level.

The report highlighted a range of issues faced by foreigners, including children with non-resident or homeless parents being unable to enroll in the school system, spouses of French citizens facing a “precarious right of residence” if they suffer domestic violence, and “barriers” stopping foreigners from benefitting from family benefits or free healthcare – or even from accessing the competitive job market.

“The fact that the law and practices perceive individuals as 'foreign' before considering them for who they are as people, children, invalids, workers or users of public services, significantly weakens their access to basic rights.”

The report, ‘The fundamental rights of foreigners in France’ was published on Monday by Jacques Toubon and can be viewed here (in French).

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