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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

France’s Macron risks parliamentary unity with controversial new immigration plans

The French President presented a new bill on Wednesday which proposes toughening up France's laws on immigration and asylum.

Ahmed Adam, left, from Sudan listens to French President Emmanuel Macron in a migrant center in Croisilles, northern France. Michel Spingler/ AP Photo
Ahmed Adam, left, from Sudan listens to French President Emmanuel Macron in a migrant center in Croisilles, northern France. Michel Spingler/ AP Photo

French President Emmanuel Macron risked a parliamentary rebellion from within the ranks of his own loyalists on Wednesday after presenting a controversial new bill, which proposes toughening up the country’s laws on immigration and asylum.

Mr Macron, a centrist candidate who was brought to power promising to unite right and left politics in France, hopes the measures will go some way to addressing the huge number of migrants trying to settle in the country as well as the numbers who travel to Calais and Dunkirk in the hope of making it to the UK.

The new bill will make the illegal crossing of borders an offence, which will be punishable by fines and one year in prison. It will also extend the amount of time in which illegal migrants can be held from 45 to 90 days and shorten deadlines to apply for asylum.

Alongside the tougher measures, Mr Macron’s government have included proposals in the bill to cut the time it takes for asylum requests to be processed as well as making it easier for minors to be given asylum.

Defending the bill last month, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, said it was “completely balanced”.

"It works on two guiding principles: France must welcome refugees, but it cannot welcome all economic migrants," Mr Collomb said.

However, not everyone agrees and the bill has drawn criticism from charities as well as lawmakers from Mr Macron’s own party, La République En Marche! (Republic On the Move).

Annie P Gavrilescu, France Regional Manager from charity Help Refugees, called the new proposals “counterproductive”, explaining that the new fast track system might actually mean more migrants who have had their asylum claims rejected would end up travelling to Calais and attempting to cross illegally into the UK.

“The law is quite worrying. It aims to reduce the waiting time on any decision on an asylum case but at the same time a reduction in that waiting time means, from experience, the number of rejections will actually go up,” Ms Gavrilescu, who is based in Calais, told The National.

“Those who will have rejections from the fast track system might not actually be aware of their legal rights in terms of repeal, meaning they won’t access it, which might make them more likely to come here [to Calais].”

Migrants queue outside a facility to apply for asylum, in Paris. Thibault Camus/ AP Photo
Migrants queue outside a facility to apply for asylum, in Paris. Thibault Camus/ AP Photo

While Republic On the Move politician Mathieu Orphelin said increasing detention time for illegal migrants was problematic and said he would attempt to modify the bill.

Fellow party member Sonia Krimi accused the government of playing with people’s fears on immigration. “All foreigners in France are not terrorists, all foreigners do not cheat with social welfare,” she told Mr Collomb in parliament in December.

Two unions from France’s refugee protection office OFPRA called strikes on Wednesday in protest at the future law.

But for many on the right the new bill does not go far enough.

On Wednesday, Le Figaro, France’s second largest national newspaper, praised Mr Collomb, who drew up the legislation, but argued the country must be able to decide when to close the door to migrants.

The right-wing publication dubbed the bill “la loi qui divise le camp Macron” (the law that divides Macron’s camp).

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The new measures might go some way to appeasing those in France who feel the government has not been tough enough on immigration.

An opinion poll conducted in February showed that 63 per cent of voters felt there were too many immigrants and 2017 saw Marine Le Pen poll a record 34 per cent for the far-right National Front party in the run-off round of May’s presidential election.

Immigration policy has come into sharper focus in European countries since the migrant crisis of 2015, in which more than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe.

In 2017 France received a record 100,000 asylum claims, making it one of the main destinations in for migrants arriving in Europe.

Mr Collomb said the future law would put France on a par with its European neighbours, claiming that the existing laws are “much more favourable” than in other countries.

The bill will be discussed in both chambers of the French Parliament and amendments will be put forth by opposing parties, before a debate on the law is held in April.

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