France unveils controversial law on migrants, asylum seekers

PARIS • President Emmanuel Macron's government yesterday proposed toughening France's immigration and asylum laws despite strident criticism from human rights groups, in a move that will test the unity of his left-and-right majority.

The Bill will double to 90 days the time in which illegal migrants can be detained, shorten deadlines to apply for asylum, and make the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines.

The government says it wants to be both firm and fair on immigration. Its proposal will also make it easier for minors to get asylum, and aims to halve the time it takes for the authorities to process any asylum request.

"The law is balanced," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said, arguing that if France did not tighten its laws, it would attract refugees put off by tougher rules elsewhere in Europe.

"If we don't take this into account, we won't be able, tomorrow, to guarantee the right to asylum in France," he said.

But while Mr Macron's parliamentary majority, a mix of lawmakers who have their roots both in right-wing and left-wing parties, has so far been very united, the government's migration plans have triggered disquiet in its ranks.

Mr Mathieu Orphelin, a lawmaker from Mr Macron's Republic On the Move party, said on Tuesday that increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, and added that he intended to propose amendments to modify the Bill.

Another lawmaker from Mr Macron's party, Ms Sonia Krimi, has accused the government of "playing with people's fears" with its migration reform.

"Not all foreigners in France are terrorists, not all foreigners cheat with social welfare," she said in a parliamentary debate.

Mr Macron is accustomed to glowing international tributes since his election in May last year on promises of a break with government framed by left-versus-right politics.

But the migration Bill has concentrated criticism at home. His approval rating has fallen to 44 per cent, its lowest level since October, a poll showed on Sunday.

Non-governmental organisations, lawyers and employees from France's asylum office, on strike for the first time in five years, staged a protest yesterday with placards reading: "Death of the right to asylum."

But the Bill might prove popular with voters. A BVA opinion poll earlier this month showed that 63 per cent of French voters believe there are too many immigrants in France.

The number of people filing asylum requests in France hit a record last year, topping 100,000.

However, that is still well below the 186,000 arrivals of asylum seekers registered last year in Germany.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'France unveils controversial law on migrants, asylum seekers'. Print Edition | Subscribe