France presents new immigration bill

The new legislation would criminalize illegal border crossings but aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications. Migrant rights groups have called for the bill to be withdrawn, labeling it "too repressive."

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

Macron has faced pressure to act on immigration after he won the 2017 presidential election, which saw 34 percent of the second round vote go to far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who had campaigned on immigration concerns.

Read more: Opinion: The EU is divided by refugee policy

The new legislation includes plans to:

  • Introduce fines of €3,750 ($4,620) or a 1-year jail term for people who illegally cross borders within the EU
  • Double the time asylum-seekers can be held in detention to 90 days
  • Halve the amount of the time asylum-seekers have to appeal if their refugee status is denied
  • Hasten the deportation of those asylum-seekers deemed to be economic migrants
  • Cut the average waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six

From Calais to Paris to...

Tearing down Paris tent camp

Police in Paris stand guard as demolition crews work to remove tents, sleeping bags and mattresses from the sidewalk near the Stalingrad metro station. Numbers at the Paris camp swelled to 3,000 after the Calais camp was razed.

From Calais to Paris to...

Final clear out?

Women in Paris wait in the cold for buses to bring them to reception centers in other parts of France. The Paris camp has been already cleared out twice in recent months. Officials hope setting up reception centers will prevent future makeshift camps from forming.

From Calais to Paris to...

No home in Paris

Thousands of refugees from the now-demolished "Jungle" camp had come to the French capital hoping to return to Calais and again try to reach the UK.

From Calais to Paris to...

Bonjour Paris

Some migrants ​had set up their tents in the French capital after they left Calais. The number of migrants on Paris' street increased by a third after the "Jungle" was closed.

From Calais to Paris to...

Homeless in Europe

Migrants who arrived in France last year were mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan. They would often try to escape through the English Channel to Britain, stowed away in trucks and cars.

From Calais to Paris to...

Calais eviction day

A group of young migrant boys stand near the "Jungle" in Calais. Camp residents lit several fires as police evacuated around 10,000 refugees from the area on October 26.

From Calais to Paris to...

Leaving Calais

Around 10,000 refugees had made the "Jungle" their home while trying to make their way to the UK. Calais officials had been struggling to relocate camp residents amid protests.

From Calais to Paris to...

The 'Jungle'

Apart from container sheltes, migrants at the Calais camp had to often live in squalid tents which offered little protection from rough weather.

From Calais to Paris to...

An embarrasment for Europe

French President Francois Hollande has promised no one will be able to resettle at the refugee camp in Calais. The "Jungle" had become a symbol of Europe's migrant crisis.

'Most vulnerable will be punished'

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said the law is "balanced" and "aligned with European procedures," 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," Collomb said.

But staff at the asylum court have raised concerns that the tighter turnaround on cases will make it harder for applicants to appeal.

The bill has caused some divide in France's left-right coalition government. Jean-Michel Clement, a lawmaker who joined Macron's centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party after switching from the Socialists, said the new legislation would hurt those who are already vulnerable.

"The most vulnerable will be punished," Clement said. "It's not forbidden to put a little humanity into a draft law."

Read more: Follow the money: What are the EU's migration policy priorities?

Another LREM lawmaker, Mathieu Orphelin, on Tuesday said increasing the detention time from 45 days to 90 days was problematic, adding that he intended to draw up amendments to the bill.

People working with organizations that assist refugees also criticized the bill, with some workers at France's refugee protection office OFPRA going on strike to protest the bill on Wednesday, calling it "an unequivocal departure from France's tradition of asylum."

Read more: The Migration Dilemma: 'We were treated like animals'

Migrant charity Cimade said it was asking for the bill to be withdrawn. "We're not even in favor of fighting for changes to the bill, because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive."

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Web-videos | 16.01.2018

Macron vows no return of Calais migrant camp

How many asylum claims does France receive: According to OFPRA, France received a 100,000 asylum applications in 2017 — its highest number for a single year to date.

'Jungle' camp gone, but Calais still a migrant hot spot: At the center of the French immigration crisis is the port town of Calais in the country's northeast, where the infamous "Jungle" migrant camp was closed down in October 2016. The city is the closest point between France and Britain, with two cross-Channel transport systems: the Eurotunnel and ferries. The town continues to be a hub for asylum-seekers hoping to make it to the United Kingdom.

Tension between France and Britain: An agreement in 2003, known as the Touquet Accords, moved the British border to Calais and left France to deal with migrants who had been refused entry into Britain. In January, Macron said he wanted to negotiate a better police cooperation with the UK to handle the migrants in Calais, as well as more money from Britain to help develop the city.

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00:53 mins.
Web-videos | 25.10.2016

Debris and ashes: 'Jungle' of Calais demolished

law/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)