Monday 20 May 2019

Macron's human touch tarnished by his firm policy on immigration

A group of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean on Christmas Day. Photo: Reuters
A group of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean on Christmas Day. Photo: Reuters

Elaine Ganley Paris

It's getting colder and colder, the clock is ticking and regional authorities are scrambling to meet French President Emmanuel Macron's deadline: get migrants off France's streets and out of forest hideouts by year's end.

That won't likely happen, and Mr Macron's government is now tightening the screws: ramping up expulsions, raising pressure on economic migrants and allowing divisive ID checks in emergency shelters.

Critics contend Mr Macron's increasingly tough policy on migrants - though wrapped in a cloak of goodwill - contradicts his image as a humanist who defeated an anti-immigrant populist for the presidency, and has crossed a line passed by no other president in the land that prides itself as the cradle of human rights.

From snowy Alpine passes to the borders with Spain or Germany, migrants keep making their way to France. In Paris, police have evacuated around 30,000 people camping on pavements in the last two years.

No one doubts that France's system of dealing with migrants needs fixing, with a perennial housing shortage and long wait times in applying for asylum.

Asylum opens the way for temporary housing, but only one-third of the 95,000 applicants this year were accepted, French government officials say.

The huge makeshift camp in Calais, dismantled last year, was emblematic of the problems. Its residents were dispersed around France, but others keep coming in hope of reaching Britain, and are finding a rude welcome. France's highest administrative body said the migrants have been subjected to inhuman and degrading conditions, and an investigation ordered by the interior minister found that it was "plausible" that police used excessive force against migrants, as Human Rights Watch maintained.

A bill overhauling asylum and immigration policy will be debated in the spring, notably expediting asylum demands but also doubling to 90 days the time a person without papers can be held in a holding centre, the last step before expulsion.

Mr Macron said in a speech in July he wanted people "off the streets, out of the woods" by the end of 2017. "I want emergency lodgings everywhere."

While his words conveyed humanity, the underlying message bites. Mr Macron has made clear he wouldn't accept economic migrants in France, wants those who don't qualify for asylum expelled and doesn't want them even trying to come to France.

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