Macron is proposing a controversial crackdown on migrants in France

Getting tough.
Getting tough.
Image: Reuters/Etienne Laurent
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Emmanuel Macron unveiled a controversial crackdown on migrants this week.

The French president gave his approval (paywall) to a bill that doubles the amount of time undocumented migrants can be detained, to 90 days from 45. It also shortens the deadlines to apply for asylum—a migrant now must apply 90 days after they arrive in France—and criminalizes crossing the Alps from Italy to France. Migrants who undertake the dangerous journey could face up to one year in jail.

The bill also proposes significantly expanding police powers (paywall). French police would be given the authority to detain undocumented migrants for up 24 hours while checking their status; police can currently only do so for 16 hours.

The bill has sparked anger among human rights charities and members of Macron’s own party. Though Macron presides over one of the largest parliamentary majorities in post-war France, his party is an eclectic mix of MPs that sit on both the left and right of the political spectrum. Some on the left have expressed alarm, while others have vowed to introduce amendments to modify the bill.

In an open letter (link in French) to the president, trade unionists and academics also slammed the migration bill. The letter accuses Macron of betraying the supporters who led him to an astonishing victory in last year’s presidential election. “Unfortunately, we’ve woken up in a country where one snatches the covers from migrants at Calais. Where one tears up their canvas tents in Paris. Where one gets lost, with frozen hands and feet, on the snow-blocked slopes of the French-Italian border,” the letter notes.

Macron’s government insists the proposed bill is a balanced response to Europe’s refugee crisis. More than 100,000 people applied for asylum in France last year—a 17% increase over 2016. Just 36% of applicants were granted refugee status. Around 85,000 people were turned away at the country’s borders.

The bill may also prove popular with the public. Earlier this month, a BVA opinion poll (link in French) showed that 63% of French people believe there are too many immigrants in France. Last month, a separate Elabe opinion poll found that a majority of participants (66%) believe French immigration policy is “too lax.”

The bill will be debated in parliament in June.