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French government attacked as 'too soft' over ‘lenient’ immigration bill

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A controversial immigration bill criticised as excessively lenient came under fire from the centre-Right opposition on Monday as France struggles to cope with the growing migrant crisis.

The Socialist government is proposing to make it easier for skilled migrants to obtain residence permits, while seeking to “regulate the numbers entering the country,” according to the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve.

The bill represents an attempt to bring order to France’s somewhat contradictory approach to the unprecedented influx of migrants but the opposition said it would encourage immigration at a time when the country needs to restrict it.

It came before parliament as Xavier Bertrand, an MP and former employment minister who served under Nicolas Sarkozy, called for an end to the “hypocrisy” with Britain over the crisis in Calais. About 3,000 migrants are camped there while trying to cross the Channel to England.

Mr Bertrand demanded the “renegotiation” of a 2003 treaty that allows British border officials to be stationed in France rather than the UK. French officials have repeatedly threatened to scrap the deal, which would mean the border would move back across the Channel and the squalid Calais camps could end up in Dover.

Mr Bertrand, who wrote to David Cameron earlier this month urging him to do more to stem illegal immigration, said the reason so many migrants wanted to settle in Britain was “because you don’t need papers there”. He accused British employers of cynically exploiting migrants as “cheap labour, without paying them the same wages or social security contributions” as other workers.

The interior minister admitted in parliament that 80 per cent of migrants whose asylum applications are rejected are not expelled from France. “This is not at all good,” Mr Cazeneuve acknowledged, although he took issue with a recent report by the French National Audit Office saying the real figure was closer to 99 per cent. “We must act with much more firmness,” he said.

If the bill passes, migrants whose asylum applications are rejected would be given home detention orders while awaiting expulsion, but would not normally be placed in detention centres.

Thierry Mariani, a centre-Right MP, said the measure was tantamount to “asking foreigners who are here illegally to be kind enough not to change address while we arrange to come and take them.”

Those who are sent to detention centres would have to appear before a judge or be released after 48 hours instead of five days, which has been the rule since 2011.

It is unclear how home detention orders could be enforced in the case of those in Calais, who live in makeshift huts and tents on wasteland, relying on charities and a day centre set up by the authorities in March for hot meals and showers.

Migrants in Calais are often arrested but generally released after a few hours, according to local police. They are rarely deported. Most entered France from Italy, taking advantage of the Schengen treaty allowing free movement across the borders of 26 European countries without passport controls.

France has recently started intercepting migrants soon after they cross the border and sending them back to Italy, which angers Italians. The new policy appeared identical to Britain’s approach, which has long drawn criticism from French officials.

Hundreds of migrants were recently removed from camps that sprang up this year near the Eurostar terminal in the heart of Paris. Many have applied for asylum in France and have joined other asylum-seekers accommodated in hotels at a cost to the state of more than a million euros a day.

Some 70,000 migrants apply for asylum each year and the number is rising. Charities are calling for the creation of more reception centres to accommodate them more cheaply.

Source: The Telegraph

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