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IMMIGRATION

France’s new immigration law sows seeds of rebellion in Macron’s party

The French parliament votes Friday on a tough immigration bill that has sparked rumblings of revolt within President Emmanuel Macron's party, with several MPs openly challenging his plans to speed up deportations of failed asylum-seekers.

France's new immigration law sows seeds of rebellion in Macron's party
People hold placards during a demonstration to demand the withdrawal of the "asylum-immigration" law. Photo: AFP
The government argues that tighter controls are needed to check the rise of anti-immigration populists, who are on the march across Europe from Berlin to 
Budapest after suffering a setback in last year's French elections.
   
“I fear that if we do not resolve the problem facing us… others will do it without any humanity,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said earlier this 
month.
   
The bill aims to both cut waiting times for asylum applications — from around a year currently to six months — and make it easier to deport those 
turned down as “economic” migrants.
   
The right-wing opposition say the bill is too soft but left-wing parties and NGOs have branded it repressive. 
 
“We cannot take on the misery of the world,” Macron, who campaigned as a champion of open borders but has adopted a tough line on migration since 
taking office, said in an interview with BFMTV on Sunday.
 
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Here's what's wrong with France's new immigration law - according to rights groups

Protest outside the French parliament against the new immigration bill. Photo: AFP

Macron pointed to the “ticking bomb” of population growth in Africa, wars and climate change among factors that would continue driving migration to 

Europe in the years to come.
   
Faced with an “unprecedented” wave of arrivals the government would focus on welcoming those whose lives were at risk in their country of origin, he 
said firmly.
 
France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, bucking the general trend in Europe, where the number of asylum seekers halved between 
2016 and 2017. 
 
A shortage of accommodation means many wind up on the streets of Paris, or the northern port of Calais, a gateway to Britain, where a squalid camp 
housing thousands of migrants was razed by the state in late 2016.
   
A February survey by pollsters BVA showed 63 percent of voters felt there were too many immigrants in France, home to around six million people who were 
born in another country.
 
'Unworthy of France'
 
On Monday, France's human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon slammed the “unacceptable conditions” facing around 1,000 migrants packed into a new 
tented camp along a canal in northeast Paris.
   
“We cannot remain on this path which is unworthy of France's welcoming tradition and increasingly difficult for some of our fellow citizens,” Collomb, one of the more hawkish figures in Macron's left-right administration, argued in parliament this week.
   
The bill doubles the time that failed asylum seekers can be detained to 90 days, making it easier to deport them.
   
It also reduces the time they have to lodge their application from 120 to 90 days and gives them just two weeks to appeal if unsuccessful, a period slammed by NGOs as far too short to gather more evidence in support of their claim.
   
Once accepted, however, refugees will be given more help to integrate, by, for instance, gaining the right to work and being given more French classes.
 
The tents of undocumented migrants where they have been camping outside the prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone department in Marseille. Photo: AFP   
 
The government has defended the legislation as balanced but several members of Macron's usually compliant Republic on the Move (LREM) party have vowed to reject the bill or abstain when it is put to a vote Friday.
   
“This bill stigmatises foreigners,” Francois-Michel Lambert, a LREM lawmaker representing the southern Bouches-du-Rhone region, told BFMTV.
   
Delphine Bagarry, an MP representing Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told France Inter radio that while she supports the need to shorten the agonising wait for 
asylum, “it cannot be at the expense of their right to a defence”.
   
Fearing that any sign of weakness could embolden dissidents to break ranks on other issues, party leader Richard Ferrand has threatened LREM naysayers 
with expulsion.
 
But the bill is expected to pass, despite strong opposition from far-right leader Marine Le Pen — the runner-up to Macron in last year's election — and 
the conservative opposition Republicans.
   
The Republicans' hardline leader Laurent Wauquiez charged that Macron's presidency was on course to legalise “a million more immigrants” by 2022.
 
Right-wingers have also argued that provisions allowing underage refugees to bring siblings to live with them in France will have a “pull effect” on migration.
 
by AFP's Clare Byrne 

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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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