• A slimmed down version of France’s controversial new immigration law has entered into force after the country’s Constitutional Council removed 35 of its 86 measures.
  • Human Rights Watch has accused authorities in Marseille of failing in their responsibilities towards unaccompanied migrant children in the city
  • 180 teenage migrants are being forced to sleep on the streets in Paris as authorities refuse to recognise them as minors.
  • Alarm Phone has claimed that there is a direct link between recent Franco-British co-operation to stop small boat crossings in the Channel and a doubling in the number of drownings.

France’s new immigration law came into effect on 27 January when it was promulgated by President Emmanuel Macron during an official visit to India. The publication of the controversial legislation in France’s Official Journal came less than a week after at least 75,000 people participated in protests against it in cities across the country. The final version of the law was also significantly shorter than the one that was approved by MPs in December as almost half of the 86 articles were struck out by the Constitutional Council following a ruling on 25 January. Following more than a month of deliberations, the nine-member Council ruled that 35 measures – many of which had been added to the draft law by right-wing parties, could not be included on the grounds that they were either too far removed from the law’s initial intent or they were unconstitutional. Among the deleted articles were measures on issues such as the right to citizenship for children born in France to foreign-born parents, immigrants’ access to social benefits, family reunification and immigration quotas. Despite the fact that a significant part of the draft law had been struck out by the Constitutional Council, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin gave an upbeat assessment of it, saying “Never has a law provided so many means for expelling delinquents and so many requirements for the integration of foreigners”. He also described the Council’s ruling as a “validation” of the government’s immigration policy. The far-right National Rally took a different view and accused the Council members of “staging a “coup” with the support of the president”.

Following the parliamentary vote in December, rights groups denounced the new legislation as “the most regressive immigration law in decades”, and they were quick to react following the Constitutional Council ruling. Writing on X, the humanitarian organisation Utopia 56 praised the Council for having censured “hate mongers” but denounced the new legislation, saying “This law should never have been passed as it is so contrary to basic human rights”. The director of ECRE member organisation France terre d’asile, Delphine Rouilleault, wrote on X: “Immediate relief to see the most hostile measures against foreigners censured. But the moral fault remains immense and the provisions maintained will tighten the conditions for exercising the right to asylum. There is nothing joyful about all this”. ECRE member organisation Forum Réfugiés issued a press release in which it also welcomed the Council’s decision to remove various articles from the law but also expressed concern that 32 of the articles had been removed not due to their content being incompatible with the Constitution but rather because they were insufficiently linked to the original proposal: “This therefore does not prejudge their non-compliance with the Constitution if they were subsequently presented within the framework of other texts”, it stated. Forum Réfugiés also expressed regret about the measures relating to the implementation of the right to asylum that were included in the final text, including ‘the generalisation of the single judge to the National Court of Asylum, the addition of situations allowing the placement in detention of persons under the Dublin procedure, the automatic application of the hypotheses of withdrawal or refusal of material reception conditions, or the possibility of closing an asylum application in the event of abandonment of the place of accommodation”. It also denounced the law for its inclusion of “other significant setbacks for people’s rights, such as the reduction in the intervention of the judge of freedoms and detention, or the extension of the maximum duration of bans on return to the territory”. Despite the evident severity of the new law, Smaïn Laacher from the Fondation Jean Jaurès suggested that it was symptomatic of a wider European tendency, saying “France does not have a tougher immigration law than other European countries. It’s a general trend”.

Human Rights Watch has accused authorities in the French Department of Bouches-du-Rhône of failing to provide unaccompanied migrant children with the protections that they need and to which they are entitled. In a recently published report on housing, health, and education for unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille, the organisation criticised the city’s child protection authorities for ‘leaving children with health needs on the street without treatment, psychosocial support, or follow-up care’. It also condemned the fact that half of the unaccompanied migrant children who undergo age assessments to determine their minority are initially denied formal recognition as children but that almost three quarters of those who appeal are ultimately successful in proving that that they are under 18. The organisations’ senior children’s rights counsel, Michael Garcia Bochenek, said: “No child should be forced to sleep in the streets while their long-term eligibility for services is resolved. It’s especially shameful to subject young people to this uncertainty and insecurity when the overwhelming majority of those who appeal adverse age assessments are ultimately successful.” The report also included a reminder to France of its obligation ‘to ensure the basic needs of all people in its territory, and provide adequate care, assistance, and protection to all children, regardless of migration status’, and Ms Bochenek advised the authorities in Marseille and elsewhere in France to “act decisively to give children the services they need to be safe and to thrive”.

Meanwhile, on 29 January, Utopia 56 reported that 180 teenagers had been forced onto the street by the Paris police acting on the instructions of the mayor’s office and the Île-de-France prefecture. Writing on X, the humanitarian organisation said that the teenagers, who had been given temporary accommodation in a gymnasium in the city a few days earlier, had “no resources and nowhere to go” and described the humanitarian situation as “catastrophic”. It added that the teenagers would be joining the “several hundred young people surviving on the streets of Paris and elsewhere, including young girls”, and that, in Paris alone, “more than 3,500 isolated teenagers were put back on the street in 2023”. The issue of homeless “mijeur” (French contraction of ‘minor’ and ‘adult’) migrants was also the subject of a special report in Le Monde, which reported that these teenagers were stuck in limbo as the authorities believed them to be adults despite the fact that ‘their identity documents, when they have them, the written proof of their journey, as well as their stories, however, testify to the contrary’. It added that this often resulted in an ‘administrative battle’ during which they would be ‘excluded from child protection systems and cannot claim aid reserved for adults’. According to Le Monde, approximately 600 mijeurs were sleeping outside in Paris in January, despite sub-zero temperatures.

Alarm Phone has claimed that there is a “direct link” between the UK and France’s most recent pact to stop people from crossing the Channel in small boats and the doubling in drownings that occurred in 2023. In a report published since five people died near to Boulogne-sur-Mer on 14 January, the organisation described the incident as ‘the most recent in a disturbing trend we have observed develop over the latter part of 2023: an increase in the loss of life in the Channel very close to the French beaches and often in the presence of police’. It argued that the increase in the activities of French police since the latest Franco-British declaration in March 2023 resulted in a reduction in the number of dinghies that are reaching the French coast ‘causing dangerous overcrowding and chaotic embarkations’, and an increase in police attacks on the dinghies as they launch ‘provoking panic and further destabilising an already unsafe situation’. Describing the alarming increase in the number of deaths related to small boat crossings in the Channel in 2023 (at least 13) compared with the previous year (six), Alarm Phone reported that: this deal [March 2023] that we have really noticed an uptick in the numbers of police interventions to stop dinghies being delivered to the coast, violence on the beaches (and sometimes at sea) to stop them launching, and by consequence the number of deadly incidents occurring at or near the shores”.

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