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IMMIGRATION

France to boost housing for migrants as mayor tweets shock images of camp’s child refugees

France will increase housing for refugees while "systematically" deporting illegal economic migrants, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday as a mayor denounced inhumane conditions for children in a migrant camp by tweeting out shock photos.

France to boost housing for migrants as mayor tweets shock images of camp's child refugees
Photo: Help4Refugee Children

France will cut processing time for asylum requests and boost housing for refugees while “systematically” deporting illegal economic migrants, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday.

Unveiling an “action plan” for dealing with tens of thousands of people who arrive in France each year, Philippe said it aimed to “guarantee the right to asylum (and) better handle migratory flows.”

France, which received 85,000 asylum requests last year, is grappling with a system that President Emmanuel Macron has described as “completely overwhelmed”.

France has come under harsh criticism from charities for failing to provide adequate facilities for refugees, leading to the formation of squalid camps in northern France and around Paris.

An aid worker who took part in a meeting at the interior ministry on the issue last week said he feared a “general hardening of expulsion measures” in the plan announced Wednesday.

“We are not what France should be” in striking a balance between humanitarian concern for refugees and observing a tough policy on handling economic migrants, Philippe said.

Philippe's announcements came after the mayor of Grand-Synthe, near the northern port of Dunkirk tweeted photos of the migrant children living in desperate conditions in the refugee camp in his town in a bid to pressure the French president to take action.

Damien Careme posted photos on Twitter, taken by the charity Help4Refugee Children showing children surrounded by mud and rubbish to highlight the terrible conditions of the camp which he said he could no longer tolerate.

Philippe said 40 percent of asylum seekers and refugees do not have access to housing, and that the current 80,000 homes and shelters would be increased by 12,500 in 2018 and 2019.

He said the plan calls for additional resources to allow authorities to reduce processing time for an asylum application from 14 months to six.

Philippe said those who are denied asylum will be “systematically” deported, adding that the legal framework for their detention pending deportation would be “redefined” as part of a draft law to be introduced in September.

“We must make economic migrants understand that it won't be possible to take in all economic migrants,” he said.

He said France would beef up means for integrating refugees such as language teaching, something Macron, elected in May, listed as a priority during his campaign.

Philippe also announced the creation of an inter-ministerial coordinator for integrating refugees into French society — a key demand of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Last Thursday, EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has seen some 85,000 migrants stream into the country since the start of the year.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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