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Asylum-seekers at an application-filing centre in Paris, 2017 / Photo: Screenshot/France24

French government unveils bill with tougher asylum rules

President Emmanuel Macron’s government presented a controversial immigration bill to the Cabinet on Wednesday, amid criticism from migrant organizations and members of the ruling party.

The bill will double the time for which undocumented migrants can be detained to 90 days and shorten the deadlines to apply for asylum, from 120 days to 90 days after a migrant’s arrival in France. It will also make the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines.

The new bill aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six, while providing help to those who want to go home.

Migrant charities have blasted the bill as repressive, saying the emphasis on quicker processing times may make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to defend their rights. They have, for example, criticised the notion of cutting in half – to 15 days – the time provided to appeal a rejection decision, saying it leaves the would-be appellant little time to secure a lawyer.

“We’re asking for it to be withdrawn,” said the Cimade charity, which works with migrants and asylum-seekers.

“We’re not even in favour of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”

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

Disquiet in ruling party

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

Matthieu Orphelin, a lawmaker from Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party, on Tuesday said increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, adding that he intended to table amendments to modify the bill.

Another lawmaker from LREM, Sonia Krimi, has accused the government of “playing with people’s fears” with its migration reform. “All foreigners in France are not terrorists, all foreigners do not cheat with social welfare,” she said in parliament in December.

The bill might however prove popular with voters. A BVA opinion poll earlier this month showed that 63 percent of French voters consider there are too many immigrants in France.

The number of people filing asylum requests in France hit a record in 2017, topping 100,000, up 17 percent on 2016. About 36 percent of applicants were granted refugee status.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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