France to double jail terms for people smugglers and fast-track asylum claims

Despite rejecting more than 70 per cent of claims only 12 per cent of migrants actually leave

Under new legislation announced, the maximum sentence for people smugglers is set to increase from 10 to 20 years. Reuters
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President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to overhaul France's immigration system by introducing longer prison sentences for people smugglers and fast-tracking asylum claims.

The move to tackle illegal immigration comes as the nation is struggling to deal with its lengthy asylum procedure, which results in some migrants settling down, having children and remaining even when their claim is eventually rejected.

Recent figures reveal that France rejects 72 per cent of claimants but only about 12 per cent issued with expulsion orders actually leave.

The country's lengthy legal appeals process, procedural delays and a lack of state resources are seen as reasons for the low expulsion rate.

Under the new legislation announced this week, the maximum sentence for people smugglers is set to increase from 10 to 20 years and firms who employ illegal immigrants could face a fine of €4,000 ($4,246).

Asylum seekers wishing to gain residency will also have to take a French language test and agree to uphold the nation’s values, such as freedom of expression, according to The Times.

The new draft immigration law will be debated formally in parliament early next year.

It comes just four years after a 2018 law with similar objectives was passed during President Macron's first term in office, which also aimed to take the heat out of an explosive political issue.

“It's about integrating better and expelling better,” France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Info radio.

Emmanuel Macron plans to improve France's asylum system in latest bid to tackle illegal immigration. AFP

“We want those people who work, not those who rob.”

Mr Darmanin and Mr Macron have linked immigration to delinquency, with both saying that about half of the petty crimes committed in Paris are by foreigners.

Mr Macron has pitched the new legislation as a means of addressing the rise of the far-right National Rally, which in June became the biggest opposition party in parliament.

“We need a policy that is firm and humane and in line with our values,” the 44-year-old said. “It's the best antidote to the extremes which feed off anxieties.”

Like many European countries, France struggles to persuade countries in North and West Africa to readmit their citizens once they are subject to an expulsion order.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who scored 41 per cent in the second round of April's presidential election, regularly accuses the government of laxity and “submerging” France with foreigners.

In her third bid for the presidency this year, she proposed changing the constitution via a referendum to set strict immigration targets and ensure French people get priority over foreigners for all state services.

“I don't expect anything [from the new law],” she said. “They will talk to us again about balancing firmness and humanity. We've heard that for decades.

“Nothing will change … immigration in our country is completely out of control.”

The draft legislation, which Mr Darmanin co-wrote, would reduce the number of appeals possible for failed asylum seekers from 12 to three and in theory speed up expulsion procedures.

It would also remove safeguards for foreigners who arrive in France as children, making it easier to expel them if they are convicted of crimes — a measure designed to tackle juvenile delinquency.

France has passed 29 different laws on immigration since 1980.

Nearly eight in 10 French people think Macron's governments have failed to control immigration, according to a poll by the CSA survey group published last month.

Updated: December 22, 2022, 2:09 PM