Apr 23, 2018 12:26 UTC
  • Contentious refugee bill passes lower house of French parliament

The lower house of France’s parliament has approved a controversial immigration bill, which critics say will worsen the conditions for miserable refugees by tightening the country’s asylum rules.

Lawmakers at the National Assembly approved the bill with 228 votes in favor, 139 against and 24 abstentions following 61 hours of debate and more than 1,000 amendments proposed by lawmakers.

The bill, which also created rifts in President Emmanuel Macron’s young centrist party Republic On The Move (LREM), shortens asylum application deadlines, doubles the time for which illegal refugees can be detained, and introduces a one-year prison sentence for entering France illegally.

One deputy from the LREM party, Jean-Michel Clement, voted against the legislation, while 14 other members abstained.

“I am not sure we’re sending to world citizens the universal message that has always been ours,” Clement said after the vote, adding that he was going to quit the president's party.

Macron’s Interior Minister Gerard Collomb claimed the bill was for “better controlled” immigration, halving the processing time for asylum applications to six months, while also making it easier to deport those rejected.

The bill will now be referred to the upper house, or Senate, for the final approval which is required to come in less than two months.

Meanwhile, opposition groups and human rights activists say the new measures are too tough on the refugees, who mainly arrive in the European country from conflict zones.

During the parliamentary debates, pro-refugee activists and rights organizations held a number of protest rallies outside the National Assembly in Paris as well as in other cities, calling on the legislators to reject the measure.

Human Rights Watch also warned that shortening the asylum processing time could have a detrimental impact.

“Under the guise of providing a more effective asylum system, the bill includes a series of measures that would diminish access to protection,” HRW's France director Benedicte Jeannerod said.

Amnesty International France also slammed the measure as “dangerous” for refugees and asylum seekers.

It “failed to address difficulties facing migrants and asylum seekers in France,” said Cécile Coudriouv, president of Amnesty International France.

France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, bucking the general trend in Europe where the number of asylum seekers halved between 2016 and 2017.

Many refugees, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, end up sleeping on the streets of Paris due to a shortage of accommodation, or camping out in Calais hoping to stow away on trucks to Britain.