Last summer, French President Emmanuel Macron declared France a land of welcome for those fleeing political persecution and war, saying he wanted all refugees “off the streets, out of the woods” by the end of the year. However, 2017 has passed and it is estimated that hundreds of refugees are still sleeping on the streets of Paris. In November 2017, Doctors Without Borders claimed that “some 1,000 migrants are aimlessly wandering [Paris’s] streets.”
One of Macron’s policies towards refugees and migrants has drawn criticism from France’s left and was decried as “racist and inhumane” by members of the European Parliament. In August 2017, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain agreed on a plan to establish migrant processing centers in Africa to allow migrants to apply for asylum before embarking on the dangerous and often tragic voyage across the Mediterranean. Proponents of the plan hope that it will stem the tide of migrants coming from Africa by letting people know if they are eligible or not before coming to Europe. According to Macron, the goal is to “avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum.” Critics have highlighted the fact that Libya, one of the main countries to process these migrants, still has no real central government to speak of and possesses multiple active war-zones.
Despite these measures, and increased EU funding for border controls and coastguards in Africa, France still received a record 100,000 asylum requests last year, up 17% from 2016 (an additional 85,000 were refused at its borders). France is not even the top destination for migrants — in 2018 alone Germany expects to receive nearly 200,000 asylum requests. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) has stressed that France is “able to handle the situation.” However, according to Doctors Without Borders, migrants in Paris are often harassed by the police, who destroy their tents and steal their blankets. Police were ordered not to let refugees settle anywhere in an attempt to stop them from sleeping on the streets. The group accused Macron’s government of trying to make the problem “disappear”.
Part of this controversial treatment comes from the government’s distinction between who it considers to be legitimate political prisoners and economic migrants. Macron has vowed to improve the speed of asylum requests for political prisoners but also wants to expedite expulsions of economic migrants. According to Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, roughly two-thirds of migrants in emergency centers were economic migrants, not political prisoners. Much of France’s migrant population have hopes of reaching the United Kingdom through the city of Calais in northern France. Those migrants, according to Macron, are at a “dead end”.
In mid-January 2018, before an Anglo-French summit in the United Kingdom, Macron announced that there will never be another refugee camp in Calais, referring to the large camp known as ‘the Jungle’ that garnered international attention. Two years ago, the now-dismantled camp in Calais housed 7,000 people, and hundreds of migrants remain in the city to this day.
At the summit, Macron repeated his “new policy” of assistance and integration for those who deserve to receive asylum in France and increased deportations of those who are in the country illegally. The United Kingdom agreed to a new border treaty in which Britain will pay an extra $62 million to help fund border security in Calais. Last year alone, 115,000 migrants attempted to cross the English Channel, down 52,000 from 2016. British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to accept 260 unaccompanied migrant children from France, despite domestic calls to accept as many as 3,000. Macron’s ‘new policy’ towards immigration seems to resonate with some French voters, considering his approval rating in December sat at 53%, a 9% gain since October.
If Macron sticks to his word, France’s response to the migration crisis—assistance and integration for those who deserve to stay and expulsion for those who don’t—could set an example for the rest of Europe to follow as it grapples with its largest migration crisis since Word War II.