France will cut processing time for asylum requests and boost housing for refugees while “systematically” deporting illegal economic migrants, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Wednesday (12 July).
Unveiling an “action plan” for dealing with tens of thousands of people who arrive in France each year, Philippe said it aimed to “guarantee the right to asylum (and) better handle migratory flows”.
France, which received 85,000 asylum requests last year, is grappling with a system that President Emmanuel Macron has described as “completely overwhelmed”.
The country has come under harsh criticism from charities for failing to provide adequate facilities for asylum seekers, leading to the formation of squalid camps in northern France and around Paris.
An aid worker who took part in a meeting at the interior ministry on the issue last week said he feared a “general hardening of expulsion measures” in the plan announced on Wednesday.
“We are not what France should be” in striking a balance between humanitarian concern for refugees and observing a tough policy on handling economic migrants, Philippe acknowledged.
He said 40% of asylum seekers and refugees did not have access to housing, and that the current 80,000 homes and shelters would be increased by 12,500 in 2018 and 2019.
Philippe said the plan calls for additional resources to allow authorities to reduce the processing time for an asylum application from 14 months to six.
He said those denied asylum would be “systematically” deported, adding that the legal framework for their detention pending deportation would be “redefined” as part of a draft law to be introduced in September.
However Philippe did not spell out how the government intends to enforce the tough new deportation policy. Only 25,000 people without papers were deported in 2016, a year that saw 91,000 arrests of undocumented foreigners.
“We must make economic migrants understand that it won’t be possible to take in all economic migrants,” he said.
He said France would beef up means for integrating refugees such as job training and language teaching, something Macron, elected in May, listed as a priority during his campaign.
Philippe also announced the creation of an inter-ministerial coordinator for integrating refugees into French society – a key demand of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Europe’s migrant influx began in 2015, centering on Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Afghanistan, crossed from Turkey.
The crisis receded in 2016 under an agreement with Turkey to clamp down on illegal border crossings.
However, it revived this year, focusing instead on sea crossings from Libya to Italy, mostly by people from sub-Saharan Africa.
Last Thursday (7 July), EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has seen some 85,000 asylum seekers stream into the country since the start of the year.
However, they made no progress on accepting more migrants for processing.
The European Commission has earmarked €35m in aid for Rome as well as proposals for working with Libya and other countries to stem the flow of migrants.