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French government unveils tough measures for asylum-seekers

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 21, 2018, 2:36 p.m.

In this Dec.21, 2017  photo, migrants queue outside a facility to apply for asylum, in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron's government presents its first big immigration bill at Cabinet meeting Wednesday Feb.21, 2018. (Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
In this Dec.21, 2017 photo, migrants queue outside a facility to apply for asylum, in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron's government presents its first big immigration bill at Cabinet meeting Wednesday Feb.21, 2018. (Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
By Sylvie Corbet Associated Press

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Wednesday presented a bill to enforce tougher immigration rules, decried by human rights organizations as repressive toward asylum-seekers.

The bill, presented at a Cabinet meeting, aims at accelerating the expulsion of people who don’t qualify for asylum. It also wants to provide better conditions for those allowed to stay in the country, such as offering more French classes and job training.

Interior minister Gerard Collomb said the plan is “balanced” and “aligned with European procedures.”

“If you don’t control the migratory flux, you can’t offer a destiny” for the nation’s youth, he said on BFM TV. “I don’t want the European dream to transform tomorrow into a nightmare.”

The plan will reduce the consideration period for an application for asylum to a maximum of six months, down from about one year including appeal.

Human rights activists say the quicker process will make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to defend their rights. Collomb says it is more humane because applicants learn their fate before making roots in a country where some ultimately cannot remain.

The plan would also allow authorities to hold migrants in France illegally in detention centers for up to 90 days instead of the current 45, in order to organize their deportation.

Under the bill, people illegally crossing borders of the EU travel-free zone will be fined $4,600.

Some organizations helping migrants, including the French Human Rights League, held street protests in Paris on Wednesday to denounce “governmental policies that infringe on migrants’ freedoms.”

Some public agents in charge of asylum procedures were on strike.

The bill, which goes to parliament in April, “is packaged to better expel,” said the president of Doctors of the World, Francoise Sivignon.

“What we contest is the spirit of the law,” she said on BFM TV.

Cyrielle Taezin, an employee at the national court of asylum, said migrants won’t have enough time to prepare their request. “They have experienced trauma. They need psychological checks. They need time to express what they’ve gone through.”

Alain Esmery, an activist with the Human Rights League, noted that Macron called last month for humanity and firmness toward migrants. “The interior minister must be hard of hearing because he has heard ‘firmness, firmness,’ ” Esmery said.

Official figures show that more than 100,000 people applied for asylum in France in 2017, up 17 percent from the year before.

The largest number of asylum requests came from people from Albania, Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan.

About 36 percent of applicants were granted refugee status.

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