French Parliament Passes Controversial Asylum and Migration Bill

By Fayçal Benhassain | August 3, 2018 | 1:09am EDT
The French National Assembly in session. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Paris ( – France’s parliament has adopted an immigration bill that has drawn opposition from critics on all sides, with Republicans arguing it doesn’t go far enough and the left-wing and rights groups calling it too harsh.

The bill seeks to control immigration, provide an effective right of asylum, and facilitate successful integration into society of migrants.

Among elements opposed by the left, the legislation reduces from 30 to 15 days the time allowed for appeals against decisions rejecting asylum applications.

The right opposes a provision allowing asylum seekers to apply for work permits six months after applying for asylum, rather than the current nine month waiting period. Conservatives also object to the fact people who accommodate or feed asylum seekers will no longer face prosecution, saying this will only encourage illegal migration.

And they worry about the new law allowing a rejected asylum seeker to be detained for up to 90 days before deportation – twice as long as the current period.

Conservatives fear such measures will encourage illegal immigrants to come to France, viewing it as more open than most other European nations.

The lower house, dominated by President Emmanuel Macron’s party, voted in favor of the legislation just 24 hours after the conservative opposition-controlled Senate rejected it. The French constitution gives the House the final say, after discussions of bills by both chambers.

Republican Senator François-Noel Buffet complained that the adopted text took the major concerns expressed by the Senate only “marginally” into account.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said the bill preserves the right to asylum. Without it, that right may well have been called into question in France, as is feared to be happening in a number of other European countries, he said.

But human rights groups that advise and provide legal support for migrants and asylum seekers are not supportive. One of them, France Terre d'Asile, said the bill “does not respond to the current challenges” and argued that insufficient time had been spend discussing the issues.

The legislation is due to be promulgated in the fall, but before that it may be submitted to the Constitutional Council, the highest authority in France, which ensures that legislation respects the principles and rules of the constitution. It usually requires the support of 60 members of the House or 60 senators for a law to be taken to the Constitutional Council.

France received 100,000 asylum applications last year, considerably fewer than in previous years, in line with a European trend which saw the number of asylum seekers halved between 2016 and 2017.

European countries have agreed to strengthen the E.U.’s external borders, but remain divided over their responsibilities in dealing with migrants already in Europe as well as those trying to reach Europe.

Italy and Central European countries are leading a move to harden policies, but France is seen by some as wanting to reduce migration numbers too, only less publicly.

Jean-Thomas Lesueur of the Thomas More Institute, a European think-tank, said in a recent interview that in doing so, Macron is emulating his predecessor, François Hollande.

Macron is relieved at not having to welcome new migrants, even as France publicly prides itself on its record of respecting human rights, he said.

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