People took the streets in Paris on Wednesday, gathering at the Saint-Michel square to denounce the injustice of the bill asylum-immigration presented by Gerard Collomb.
The demonstrators were holding posters, saying "a roof and papers for all", "freedom for the exiles" and insisting that "no one is illegal".
The new bill toughens the French stance on migrants, and aims to speed up examination of asylum claims, making it easier for the government to return migrants who fail to get asylum back to their countries.
Three Pillars of the Bill
Presenting the document after a session of the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, Gerard Collomb outlined three major provisions of the bill, saying that the text "targets three goals: the first goal is strengthening protection of a certain number of people; second is to converge our procedures with the European law and practice, and the third goal to better adapt our laws to operational reality."
Along with intensifying the expulsion policy, Collomb pledged to create better conditions for those who have a right to stay in France under a refugee status. The bill reduces the delay on the asylum examination procedure to six months from the current 14.
"Today, a refugee fleeing a hell in Syria, who wants to be received in our country, has to wait for more than a year before his demand is treated. That’s unacceptable. The asylum-immigration law puts in place the means to reduce this delay to six months," Collomb wrote on Twitter.
Collomb added that the law also sought to protect the most vulnerable persons. Stateless persons or those subjected to subsidiary protection would get a residence permit for four years instead of 12 months, and the family reunion procedure would be facilitated for minors, being extended to their siblings.
The minister discarded any worries about the bill debated in the National Assembly in April, as well as criticism on behalf of NGOs working with migrants, who say that this shortened period of asylum claim would make it more difficult for migrants to defend their rights and prepare their cases, saying that the law was "totally balanced" and "absolutely imperative" for France.
The bill also prolongs the period when a migrant can be locked up in a closed center, awaiting deportation, from 45 to 90 days. The measure is widely criticized as violating human rights, while the French interior minister believes this goes in line with European legislation.
"A certain number of people said it was shocking. But one needs to know that European directive for return … allows fixing the duration of retention between 6 and 18 months. For Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands it is 180 days. So saying we will pass from 45 to 90 days is not exorbitant for European common right, we are just following the directive of the EU," Collomb said.
The new bill also outlines certain regulations regarding the possible return of house arrests, where a foreigner is obliged to stay at a place stated as his permanent residence during a fixed amount of hours every day, so that the police are able to check on him. The text sets fines to be paid for unauthorized work (5-year prison term or a fine of 75,000 euros or $92,000), and an unauthorized crossing of external Schengen borders (3,750 euros).
In 2017, over 100,000 migrants and refugees applied for asylum in France, which became the highest number over the past 40 years. In January, Collomb said that around 26,000 illegal migrants were sent back in 2017, noting that forced returns increased by 14 percent compared to previous years.