President Emmanuel Macron says France will begin debating a bill on asylum and immigration at the start of 2023 to put an end to "an absurd policy" he considers "inefficient and inhumane".
Macron told a meeting of prefects on Thursday that existing policies involved putting women and men who arrive in France and "who are in the greatest misery” into poor neighbourhoods.
He said this was “ineffective because we find ourselves with more foreign people in a difficult situation than many of our neighbours, and inhumane because this pressure means they are too often badly received".
Macron called for asylum seekers to be distributed around the country, especially to areas where population levels are dropping.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration National Rally, was not swayed.
"Emmanuel Macron wants to distribute illegal immigrants in rural areas. We consider they should go home," she tweeted on Friday. "We will oppose this new madness."
Macron also promised to “improve the effectiveness of policies on deportation” for illegal aliens, and said France needed to make the granting of visas more conditional on “the spirit of cooperation to take back illegal foreigners, starting with those who disturb public order”.
During his recent trip to Algeria, Macron and his counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune paved the way for relaxing the visa regime between the two countries, in exchange for increased cooperation from Algiers in the fight against illegal immigration.
Aurore Bergé, the head of Macron’s Renaissance group at the National Assembly, said on Friday that France should have "a sovereign policy" on immigration and should be able to decide "who we want to welcome”.
Questioned about "selective immigration" on Cnews TV, she said that "all French people are in favour of it".
No need for new law
The existing law on immigration, introduced in 2018, was designed to accelerate asylum procedures by cutting down the maximum processing time from 120 to 90 days after entering France.
It also aimed to make it easier to deport those whose claims were turned down.
France Terre d’Asile, a non-profit working with asylum seekers and migrants, said France “didn’t need a new law to better welcome foreigners" but agreed the 2018 law needed to be evaluated.
There's an "urgent" need to guarantee asylum seekers a real and dignified welcome and to stop the absurdities and hypocrisy, Hélène Soupios-David, part of France Terre d’Asile’s legal team, told France Info.
The majority of asylum seekers arriving in Paris had lived on the streets at some point, she said.
“We need to change the conditions of integration, allow them to learn French as soon as possible, have unimpeded access to the job market.
"All of this is more linked to administrative obstacles or lack of means, rather than legislation."