Macron’s controversial asylum bill makes headway in French parliament
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French lawmakers approved a measure of President Emmanuel Macron’s tough immigration bill that would allow authorities to double the amount of time they can detain those who have been refused asylum to up to 135 days.
The move came a day after the national assembly voted to cut the appeals process for a failed asylum bill to 15 days.
The bill has sparked rumblings of revolt with Macron’s party, with several MPs openly challenging his plans to speed up deportations of failed asylum-seekers.
Other aspects of the bill are scheduled for vote on Sunday.
In the run-up to French presidential elections back in May 2017, centrist then-candidate Emmanuel Macron hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy as responding “humanely” to the refugee crisis and “saving [Europe’s] collective dignity”.
He promised to shorten the process of asylum requests to six months and proposed making it easier to obtain a “talent visa”, an option for skilled workers to find employment in France.
Macron stated that France “would welcome refugees in need of protection”, making specific reference to those whose lives were in jeopardy, excluding economic migrants and those without refugee status.
At the time, the French president was facing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential elections. Le Pen advocated an anti-immigration policy and expressed concerns over security, which helped her gain popularity.
But today, Macron seems determined to tighten French immigration law as the government argues that stricter controls are needed to check the rise of anti-immigration populists.
France faced an unprecedented wave of arrivals last year. In January, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) said it had received 100,000 applications for asylum (an increase of 17 percent) for the third year in a row, although demands fell in Europe as a whole from 1.2 million to 600,000.
Meanwhile, police prevented an estimated 85,000 migrants from entering France in 2017.
Despite this figure, the leader of France's right-wing Les Républicains, Laurent Wauquiez, believes the Macron administration is not doing enough. On April 19, he said that without a change in policy, he believes France is on course to legalise "a million more immigrants" by 2022.
However, 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 known as "The Jungle" housing thousands of migrants was razed by the state in late 2016.
In February, Macron's government unveiled a bill aimed at speeding up the processing of asylum requests and the expulsion of migrants who are unable to claim asylum.
"I fear that if we do not resolve the problem facing us ... others will do it without any humanity," Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said earlier in March.
The proposed bill has triggered complaints from human rights groups and a wave of street protests by civil servants in charge of asylum procedures. There have even been stirrings of opposition from within Macron’s own party, La République En Marche (LREM), which up until now had been showing a united front.
The bill has also sparked controversy on both sides of the French political spectrum, with the left branding it “inhumane” while voices on the right have called it “too soft”.
Macron’s bill is a balancing act of sorts between policing France's borders and defending refugees and their rights under international law.
The bill would cut the asylum application process to six months from the current waiting period of 11 months. Those whose cases are rejected will see the time they have to appeal against the decision halved, from 30 days to 15. The deadlines to apply for asylum will be shortened from 120 days to 90 days after a migrant’s arrival in France.
This last clause looks to have Macron’s fingerprints all over it, as it intends to portray the government as efficiently working on accelerating the process for “deserving” asylum-seekers while cracking down on others. However, in reality, the shortened time will make it difficult for asylum-seekers to pull together a coherent case.
Other measures involve allowing authorities to detain those who have been refused asylum for up to 135 days while they await deportation. The bill will also double the time for which undocumented migrants can be detained to 90 days.
Entering the country without using a recognised border crossing will be made an offence punishable by up to one year in prison while the sentence for using fake identification papers will be five years.
New powers will also be given to border patrol and customs officers to carry out checks in migrant and homeless shelters.
French weekly l’Obs, which supported Macron during his campaign and his first few months at the Elysée Palace, has heavily criticised the bill. In January it published a black-and-white photo of his face wrapped in barbed wire on its cover above the words: “Welcome to the country of human rights.”
In a letter published in Le Monde last month, think-tank analysts and academics accused the president of using “doublespeak” on migration and failing to keep his campaign promises. “Mr. Macron, your politics contradict the humanism that you preach,” wrote the signatories, which included Jean Pisani-Ferry, the economist who put together Macron’s economic programme.
Macron recently defended the country’s tough new asylum laws in a televised interview with Edwy Plenel of the investigative website Mediapart and Jean-Jacques Bourdin of RMC radio, timed to mark his first year in office.
“France cannot take in all the misery of the world," he said.