BY NANDINI LAHOTY
France has a long tradition of offering asylum to foreign refugees, and the right of asylum has constitutional value under French law. There are two types of asylum protection in France: refugee protection and subsidiary protection. Asylum essentially rests on the serious possibility that the asylum seeker could be the victim of persecution or harm in his/her country of origin. Asylum may be denied or revoked for individuals who have committed crimes or whose presence would be a threat to society or national security. Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have the right to live and work in France, and to bring their spouse and children. Those granted refugee status can apply to be naturalized as French citizens immediately.
However, French president, Emmanuel Macron, on the day of elections pledged to “work for all” and also maintained a frosty rapport with national media since the day he was elected, 2017. Therefore, it was a bit unusual when in October 2019, sat down for a long interview with the magazine ‘Valeurs Actuelles’ , to outline his priorities for the second half of his five-year term. Immigration and the refugees —notably, how to reduce it—was chief among them. Valeurs Actuelles is a conservative weekly magazine known for alarmist tropes against refugees and Muslims, so it seemed like an odd pick for a president who ran as a “radical centrist.” His interview for such a magazine cover increased tension in and around the state and proved the critics, that the statement that have been revolving around for so long, “the young reformer is pushing an increasingly right-wing agenda on refugees, using it to distract from his unpopular economic reforms and to hedge against an ascendant far right”, is actually true.
Later, in the first week of November, his government rolled out strict new reforms that fundamentally changed the face of incoming refugees to France. The reforms are designed to both discourage asylum-seekers from attempting to reach France and encourage skilled foreign workers to apply for visas. One provision requires asylum-seekers to wait for three months before they are eligible to receive non-urgent health care; another states that, as of 2020, the government will implement annual quotas for skilled immigrants. The Labour Ministry announced measures which makes it easier for businesses to recruit foreigners , calling current levels of red tape “dissuasive.” In addition, officials said that informal migrant camps in and around Paris would be cleared by the end of 2019, as the government confronted a growing and visible problem in many French cities. The major objective was the policy is to make the country less attractive to migrants while cracking open the door to skilled foreign workers. .
Later, Emmanuel said his toughened stance would be a boon for the working class since the refugees snatch the possible employments of the native middle class and removing them from the game would automatically make the working class winners. It’s not the first time the French government has forcibly cleared the encampments that line peripheral boulevards and damp underpasses, and are home to some 3,000 migrants and asylum-seekers around Paris alone. Advocates for migrant rights say that each camp demolition worsens already difficult conditions for thousands of people, including families with young children, who find themselves on the streets or in legal and administrative limbo.
Many on the French left see Macron’s rightward slide on refugees and immigrants as an attempt to win over supporters of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally party. In the world’s sixth-largest economy, revoking health care from the most vulnerable will worsen public-health conditions. The recent demolitions of migrant camps have overwhelmed makeshift shelters around Paris and pushed hundreds of families onto the streets. With Macron’s neoliberal economic policies gone wrong and now the refugee policy next, the most vulnerable populations became the scapegoat. Macron also has his eye on upcoming presidential elections in 2022. They say that his campaign slogan of “en même temps” or “at the same time”—his lofty promise to maintain progressivism and boost economic performance, while governing neither from the “left nor right”—has given way to a right-wing presidency that betrays the country’s stated commitment to human rights. Opponents complained in parliament that refugees were treated like criminals. Child protection authorities in Paris continued to use flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied refugee children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, leaving hundreds homeless. Human Rights Watch says shortening asylum application deadlines could negatively impact the “most vulnerable asylum seekers, who would be the ones most likely to miss the deadline”.
These uncertain political gains have serious humanitarian consequences on the ground. Macron is skilled at political schemes and is applying the same to France. However, in the meantime, it’s the migrant population and the refugees that has to pay the price.