Emmanuel Macron’s government is planning to toughen France’s immigration policy in a bill to be debated next year, a move that critics have warned will fuel anti-migrant sentiment taking hold across Europe.
Gérard Collomb, French interior minister, said on Monday that the reform would speed up asylum procedures and improve living conditions for refugees entitled to stay in France. At the same time, the government would seek to accelerate deportations for those who did not qualify for asylum.
Mr Collomb suggested that France was on the verge of a big influx of migrants, telling RTL radio that the situation in Paris was “explosive”.
“In Germany, about 300,000 people have been denied asylum, they want to come to France. Are we taking them all? No, because otherwise we would have to build a city like Lyon,” said Mr Collomb, the long-time mayor of France’s second city.
Mr Macron’s move to toughen immigration laws follows electoral gains for far-right parties, which have seized on anxiety over the large number of migrants who have arrived in the continent since 2015.
But non-profit organisations including Emmaus and Secours Catholique warned of the potential for “serious human rights infringements” after details of the bill emerged over the weekend. The charities said they were concerned about a provision allowing police to conduct identity controls in emergency housing centres.
CFDT, France’s largest trade union, said the policy raised questions over the “unconditional housing of persons in distress” and would fuel “brutality” towards migrants.
Dominique Reynie, head of Fondapol, a Paris-based centre-right think-tank, suggested that Mr Macron, who defeated anti-immigration National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in May’s presidential election, was obliged to put forward a strategy to deal with migration.
“We have reached a point where this issue must be addressed because public opinion including leftwing voters generally view immigration as a threat,” Mr Reynie says. “Even Mr Macron cannot not follow a tougher line.”
The National Front party said on Monday that Mr Macron’s attention to the issue was “a political victory”.
The National Front and the rightwing Les Republicains party have long criticised France’s low rate of deportations of those denied asylum.
In 2016, 16,489 people were deported, fewer than one in five who were denied asylum, official data show.
Mr Collomb on Monday said deportations had risen 14 per cent this year. “It means that when we want we can,” he said
Nearly two-thirds of EU citizens say immigration has a negative impact on their countries, according to a Fondapol survey released last month. The share is 60 per cent in France and 51 per cent in Germany. While two-thirds of Europeans polled said it was a duty to rescue refugees, 54 per cent said their countries could not afford to take more of them.
At a meeting of EU heads of state in Brussels last week, member states quarrelled over the bloc’s policy for dealing with refugees.
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