France Passes Controversial Asylum Law

By Jenna Tidwell

            In April 2018, the French National Assembly preliminarily passed a controversial new asylum bill that imposes a sentence of up to one year of imprisonment for entering France illegally, greatly extends the amount of time that the French government can detain illegal migrants, and decreases the amount of time that migrants have to submit applications for asylum after entering France.[1] The bill was the topic of serious debate amongst National Assembly members in April but eventually passed overwhelmingly with a vote of 228 for the bill to 139 against.[2] The final text of the bill was signed into law on August 1, 2018[3] with a final National Assembly vote of 100 in favor and a mere 25 in opposition.[4]

            This law implements a slew of harsh new deadlines and regulations that migrants must abide by if they wish to seek asylum in France.[5] Previously, asylum seekers were allowed eleven months to submit a claim for asylum after entering the country.[6] The new law cuts this time nearly in half, leaving asylees with a mere six months to navigate the bureaucracy’s red tape and file an asylum application.[7] Additionally, authorities are now able to detain individuals who have been denied asylum for up to ninety days, doubling the previous maximum stay in detention of forty-five days.[8] Illegally crossing a border to enter France is also now a criminal offense that can be punishable by fines and one year of jail.[9] The law also allows the government to keep children in detention with their parents, a practice that far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon condemned as “barbaric.”[10]

            These new regulations are meant to speed up the asylum process in France while expediting deportations of those not eligible for relief back to their countries of origin.[11] According to France’s Interior Minister, Gérard Collomb, France wants to cut the asylum application process down to six months “[b]ecause for those for whom asylum is granted, it is better to be able to begin integrating into French society as early as possible, . . . but for those deported, in six months, you haven’t lost your family roots, you haven’t lost contact with you country.”[12] Migrants who are ultimately granted asylum will receive additional help coping with the transition of integrating into French society and with learning the French language.[13] The law also aims to help facilitate the reunification of family units for those who are granted asylum but may have been separated during the process.[14]

Yet, decreasing the time allowed to submit an application and increasing the maximum detention stay will not necessarily have an impact on deportations as the problem appears to lie with asylees’ home countries.[15] In order for a migrant to be returned to his or her country of origin, that country must formally accept the person as a returning national.[16] These countries “have to acknowledge that [the asylees] are nationals of their respective states, [and] in the absence of a passport, the country needs to produce a consular travel document, without which deportation is impossible.”[17] Thus, without the cooperation of migrants’ countries of origin, application deadlines and increased time in detention will have only a marginal effect on the time and number of deportations that France is able to execute.[18]

            However, while the bill did pass with a significant majority, not all National Assembly members were supportive of the proposed legislation.[19] Mr. Jean-Michel Clément, a member of the La République en Marche (LREM) party, did not vote in favor of the bill and released a statement after the vote in which he worried that France was not “sending to [the] world citizens the universal message that has always been ours.”[20] After the vote, Mr. Clément abruptly announced his departure from LREM, the party of current president Emmanuel Macron.[21] By voting against the bill. Mr. Clément violated the unwritten rules of his progressive party, and in his statement, he made it clear that his departure was largely due to the political ramifications that he was surely to face as a result of his vote.[22] Mr. Clément informed the world that “[i]n order to prevent [his] vote from entertaining some ambiguous or far-fetched interpretations, wherever they come from, [he] decided to leave the parliamentary group La République en Marche from [that] day on.”[23] Sonia Krimi, another National Assembly member from Macron’s LREM party, claimed that the government was using the law to “play[] with people’s fears” concerning the influx of migrants into France.[24] When the bill was first being discussed in parliament in December 2017, Ms. Krimi told her colleagues that “[a]ll foreigners in France are not terrorists; all foreigners do not cheat with social welfare.”[25]

            International human rights groups have also stepped up to speak out against France’s tough new take on asylum.[26] Amnesty International, a London-based non-governmental organization (NGO), stated that the law “failed to address the difficulties faced by migrants in France” while proving the National Assembly’s inability “to put an end to the detention of children [or] to provide protection for refugees.”[27] Non-profit charities have deemed the law “repressive,” claiming that quicker processing times make it harder for asylees to secure representation and defend the rights that they are owed.[28] Human Rights Watch issued a statement concerning how shortening the application process “could negatively impact the ‘most vulnerable asylum seekers, who would be the ones most likely to miss the deadline.’”[29] Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has also criticized France for creating “a system that allows fast-tracked asylum seekers to be removed before appeals are heard.”[30] In 2012, ECHR issued a warning to France “as it considered that the lack of a suspensive clause for certain categories of asylum seekers violated their right to effective appeal,”[31] which leaves the question open of whether ECHR will act again in opposition to these newly passed regulations. Yet, the bill has only recently been signed into law, and only time will tell how these new deadlines and regulations truly impact those seeking relief from persecution in hopes of starting a new life in France.


[1] France Approves Controversial Immigration Bill, BBC NEWS (Apr. 23, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43860880.

[2]  Id.

[3] Id.

[4] France Adopts Tough New Law on Asylum, Immigration, RADIO FRANCE INTERNATIONALE (Aug. 2, 2018), http://en.rfi.fr/france/20180802-france-adopts-tough-new-law-asylum-immigration.

[5] The Asylum and Immigration Law Adopted in the National Assembly, NEWS MAGAZINE (Apr. 23, 2018), https://www.archyworldys.com/the-asylum-and-immigration-law-adopted-in-the-national-assembly/.

[6] Cécile Barbière, France’s Asylum Reform at Odds with European Law, EURACTIV (Apr. 24, 2018), https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/frances-asylum-reform-at-odds-with-european-law/.

[7]  Id.

[8]  Id.

[9] Charly Triballeau, French Government Unveils Tougher Asylum Rules in New Bill, FRANCE 24 (Feb. 21, 2018), https://www.france24.com/en/20180221-france-migrants-government-unveils-contentious-asylum-rules-new-bill-macron-collomb.

[10] BBC NEWS, supra note 1.

[11] Triballeau, supra note 9.

[12]  Id.

[13] BBC NEWS, supra note 1.

[14] French Parliament Passes Sweeping Immigration Law, DEUTSCHE WELLE (Apr. 23, 2018), https://www.dw.com/en/french-parliament-passes-sweeping-immigration-law/a-43490744.

[15] Barbière, supra note 6.

[16]  Id.

[17]  Id.

[18]  Id.

[19]  BBC NEWS, supra note 1.

[20]  Id.

[21] NEWS MAGAZINE, supra note 5.

[22]  Id.

[23]  Id.

[24] Triballeau, supra note 9.

[25]  Id.

[26]  NEWS MAGAZINE, supra note 5.

[27]  Id.

[28] Triballeau, supra note 9.

[29] BBC NEWS, supra note 1.

[30] Camille Marquis, France Approves Flawed Asylum and Immigration Law, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (Aug. 4, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/04/france-approves-flawed-asylum-and-immigration-law.

[31] Barbière, supra note 6.