Thursday

28th Jan 2021

France tightens immigration law, sparking division

  • The law has brought widespread criticism from human right defenders and sown rare divisions within Macron's own party

The National Assembly in France has passed new immigration laws that toughen up asylum rules by speeding up the application procedure and making it easier to deport people.

The controversial law has brought widespread criticism from human right defenders and sown rare divisions within French president Emmanuel Macron's own Republic on the Move (LRM) centrist party.

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French lawmakers passed the bill 228 votes to 139, with 24 abstentions on Sunday (22 April) following a marathon debate that lasted 61 hours and attracted around 1,000 amendments.

Some 14 members of the LRM party abstained with another voting against the bill. The Senate is now set to debate it in June.

"I am not sure we're sending to world citizens the universal message that has always been ours," said LRM party member Jean-Michel Clement, who voted against the bill, in a statement.

Macron's party introduced the bill in February as part of a wider presidential campaign effort to wrestle support away from defeated far-right and anti-immigrant candidate, Marine Le Pen.

It allows authorities to keep child asylum seekers in detention for up to 90 days as they await deportation. The tough stace is not unique to France. Hungary keeps children as young as 14 in shipping containers along its border with Serbia.

Early last year, the European Commission told reporters that locking up children is a means to protect them from smugglers and traffickers. EU law allows detention to last for up 18 months. A few weeks later, it then issued recommendations on how best to protect children.

But the French bill also reduces the asylum application filing period from 120 days to 90 days and shortens the deadline to launch appeals from one month to 15 days.

Such measures render the application process much more onerous for the asylum seeker and risks unjustly sending home people who require international protection, according to Human Rights Watch.

In 2017, the French national court of asylum granted protection to over 8,000 people who had appealed their negative decision. Around 100,000 applied for asylum last year.

Those given refugee status under the new law will be granted easier access to work.

The move also comes amid a greater push at the EU level to ensure that people denied the right to asylum are sent home, given that only around 36 percent actually leave.

"We need to significantly increase our number of returns, all member states must streamline the return process. Return decisions should not just be given but also enforced," said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos last September.

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