Asylum seekers protested as the Calais migrant camp was cleared on February 29, 2016 [Carl Court/Getty Images]
France’s parliament is set to debate toughening the country’s immigration policies through a bill that would accelerate asylum applications and expedite deportations.
The disputed bill, which will be debated in parliament on Monday, has prompted criticism from opposing sides of the political spectrum.
Summarising the draft bill, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said it should get the country “out of the situation where we badly welcome those to whom we owe the reception, and where we do not send away those who have no right to stay in France”.
While the text contains some effective rights improvements, it has been criticised for its restrictive nature, as President Emmanuel Macron seeks to address widespread anti-immigrant sentiment.
One of the bill’s objectives is to see the legal detention period of those who have been refused asylum prolonged from the current 90 days to 135 days while awaiting deportation.
Another aim is to shorten the time frame in which a migrant can apply for asylum from 120 to 90 days.
It is also designed to facilitate expulsion of migrants to countries that are featured on a “safe” list. Rejected applicants will no longer be able to apply for another residence permit and the appeal period will be reduced to 15 days.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who introduced the reform in January, said “the bill is balanced and will align our procedures with those existing in neighbouring countries”.
He also suggested that France’s “lax asylum policies” were responsible for the influx of migrants.
However, the immigration bill has faced fierce criticism from non-governmental organisations and French government agencies dealing with refugees.
La Cimade, an organisation that works with undocumented immigrants in France, is one of the NGO’s leading the battle against the bill.
“The objective is; grant fewer rights, expel more people, migrants and rejected asylum seekers,” Rafael Flichman, communications officer at La Cimade, told Al Jazeera.
“Locking up thousands of people for 45 days or more to expel a few hundred more a year is an inhumane measure that will undoubtedly generate trauma and violence related to deprivation of freedom,” he said.
“Detention centres are prisons. For example, someone recently committed suicide in a detention centre in Marseille. Self-harm and suicide attempts are very common in this situation,” Flichman added.
According to Flinchman, countless asylum seekers living on the streets in Paris also “do not have access to a lawyer, support from an association, no legal skills, and no internet access” and thus will be unable to make an appeal in less than 15 days.
In a letter to the French newspaper Le Monde published in January, a group of analysts and academics accused Macron of “double language” on migration.
The group includes Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist who put together Macron’s economic programme.
“Mr. Macron, your policies contradict the humanism that you advocate,” the letter reads.
“Unfortunately, we have woken up in a country where we tear the blankets off the migrants in Calais. Where we deface their tent canvases in Paris. Where one can get lost, hands and feet frozen, on the snowy slopes of the Franco-Italian border.
“Thus Eritreans, Sudanese or Syrians, humiliated in their country, tortured in Libya, exploited by criminal smugglers, terrorised in the Mediterranean, who have entered Europe by Greece or Italy, may soon be deprived of their liberty in France,” the letter adds.
In an effort to clamp down on the migrants, France began dismantling the camp in Calais in northern France, known as The Jungle, in 2016.
It was home to as many as 8,000 people, including 1,2000 children, who were seeking to cross the English Channel to reach the United Kingdom.
The United Nations have warned this month that hundreds of refugees are still living in “inhumane” conditions in northern France with no access to toilets and only polluted rivers to wash themselves in.
It is estimated that up to 900 migrants and asylum-seekers are still based in Calais.
“This law is not based upon a humane philosophy at all,” Marion Beaufils, a legal advisor in a detention centre, told Al Jazeera. “It applies a very punitive approach to immigration.”
“The people currently detained in administrative detention centres are very worried that this new law will be passed,” she added.
Last year, applications for asylum in France rose to 100,000, an increase for the third consecutive year, even though they generally fell in Europe, according to Eurostat.
The draft bill also proposes plans for better protection and housing for refugees.
Financial help will be provided for those who are willing to return to their home countries voluntarily and the protection of young girls who are at risk of female genital mutilation will be reinforced.
Further extension of family reunification of brothers and sisters will be applied and an easier application process will be in place for students and researchers.
But “the positive aspects of the reform are very minor and will concern only a few hundred people per year,” Flichman said.
The government argues that its proposed bill is balanced and that it seeks to comply with European Union regulations with regard to immigration by 2020, so as to be on equal footing with other EU member states.
“The government takes two risks with this project; disappointing the left who want more tolerance and more generosity in the field of immigration, even if they agree with the idea of fighting against illegal immigration; and to disappoint the right who seek to defend strong themes on national identity,” Bruno Cautres, a political scientist and researcher at Sciences Po in Paris, told Al Jazeera.
Cautres argued that, “we must not stop educating the French of tolerance towards people from other countries and cultures”.
“But the government also needs to show that it is working together with its European partners on the issue of immigration. We cannot say that we want a stronger European integration and at the same time leave this problem to our neighbours, Germany or Italy in particular.
“France is not doing enough to welcome refugees,” he said.