Europe must have an asylum policy, says Interior Minister

Immigration – Interview given by M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior, to RTL

Paris, 12 May 2015

Q. – The problem of refugees, coming from Libya among other places, continues to worry Europe. The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, wants to impose on the Community’s 28 countries national quotas for taking in the refugees arriving on our coasts, particularly to relieve Italy, Cyprus, Malta and Greece, which are accepting many more than they should. What will your answer to Jean-Claude Juncker be?

THE MINISTER – These proposals by Jean-Claude Juncker are inspired by some of the proposals made by France. Last summer, in August, I began a tour of European capitals to ensure we had a common policy in the face of the migration risks resulting, among other things, from the destabilization of a number of countries, particularly Libya.

I think it’s right for there to be a distribution of the number of asylum seekers among the different European Union countries, and it’s right for Europe to have an asylum policy, and if we want to be effective in the face of the phenomenon we’re confronted with, we must take measures together that are coherent and strong. What are those measures? Firstly, ensuring we can save lives: we’re confronted with a terrible phenomenon at humanitarian level. Strengthening Frontex, tripling its resources, should enable us to achieve that goal, and at the same time Frontex will continue to be an operation to control the European Union’s external borders.

Secondly, we must work with the countries of origin – that’s crucial: in other words, we must be able, from the countries of origin, to distinguish people seeking illegal economic immigration from people eligible for asylum, and organize those people’s asylum ourselves. That’s the purpose of the visit I’m paying to Niger the day after tomorrow, to begin dialogue to this effect with the country’s authorities. And we must also share the number of asylum seekers between the different European Union countries, and in France we must reform our asylum policy: that’s the purpose of the bill the government has presented to Parliament, which will be debated in the Senate this afternoon. Shorter timeframes, more places in reception centres and better-recognized rights, but failed asylum claimants taken back to the border, more firmly and more clearly.

Q. – Do we have the means to take them back?

THE MINISTER – In the immigration bill, which follows the asylum bill, which will be presented to Parliament in July, there’s a package of measures, particularly house arrest, which should enable us to be much more effective when it comes to taking them back to the border. I must also say that in this respect, we’ve been taking 13% more failed asylum claimants back to the border since 2012. (…)./.

Immigration – Article by M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior, in the daily newspaper Le Figaro

Paris, 11 May 2015

The Mediterranean is today at the centre of an exceptionally serious human crisis. More than 1,700 people have already lost their lives there in 2015, falling victim to traffickers who, after fleecing the migrants, do not hesitate to send them out on makeshift vessels. At an emergency meeting on 23 April, the European Council took measures relating to, among other things, a tripling of the resources dedicated to the Frontex agency, a strengthening of our cooperation with countries of origin and transit, the fight against people-smuggling networks, and solidarity with Europe’s initial reception countries like Italy and Greece. In keeping with its role, France has put itself in the vanguard of this European mobilization and will continue to do so.

Everyone knows that those migrants include refugees fleeing regional crises and the terrible persecution that entire peoples are suffering in the Middle East. Neither Europe nor France can remain blind to this reality. This is why it is more urgent than ever to modernize our asylum system, to give us the means calmly to take in those eligible for our protection. This is the whole point of the asylum bill, under consideration in the Senate after being adopted by a broad majority – transcending party political divisions – in the National Assembly last December.

The urgent nature of the situation imposes obligations on us. In the face of the tragedies playing out in the Mediterranean, in the face of the challenges posed to European societies by the taking-in of migrants, let us avoid posturing and partisan arguments. Every member of the Republic is bound by a threefold obligation of truth, humanity and responsibility.

Telling the French people the truth means, first of all, not concealing from them the reality of the migration confronting Europe. Since 2013, the chaos prevailing in Libya has led to migration across the Mediterranean that is unprecedented in its scale and duration, with more than 200,000 arrivals in Italy. But France is not, for the moment, the point of arrival for any wave of migration that is of priority concern to it. In this regard, the fact that asylum requests over the same period have declined in France while increasing everywhere else in Europe speaks volumes.

We also have a duty of humanity towards migrants fleeing persecution and war and seeking asylum on our soil. This duty requires us to overhaul thoroughly our asylum procedures; everyone is aware of their serious failings. On the one hand, the doubling of the number of applications between 2007 and 2012 provoked no reaction at the time, to the extent that the average processing time for asylum applications rose to nearly two years. This long wait damages both proper integration by refugees into French society and our ability to deport failed claimants. On the other hand, asylum seekers are dealt with very unequally. Some are housed in asylum seekers’ reception centres (CADAs) and enjoy appropriate administrative, welfare and legal assistance thanks to the commitment of social workers, whose calibre is universally praised. By contrast, others end up in emergency shelters or even makeshift camps. This situation is no more tolerable.

This diagnosis is known, and the government is no longer observing but taking action. It has considerably increased the resources of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) in order to drastically reduce processing times. It has mobilized the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) and prefectures to set up one-stop shops to facilitate asylum applications. It has created 4,000 additional places in CADAs in two years and has set itself the goal of opening 5,000 more by 2017, so that this type of housing is finally the norm for the asylum seekers France takes in. The adoption of the asylum bill is now essential for building on these changes, whose necessity everyone acknowledges.

Responsibility also requires us not to dodge the delicate issue of failed asylum claimants. Since 2012, we have already been getting results – need I remind you that enforced removals reached their highest level last year since 2006? – but these are still not enough. This is why the government has proposed measures to make our procedures for returning foreigners who are illegally present more effective, in a bill on the rights of foreigners which will be debated from the summer onwards.

In the face of significant migration challenges, my firm belief is that there is room for a balanced response from the Republic. We are seeing this in Calais, where the opening of a day centre for migrants and the facilitation of access to refugee status for those eligible go hand in hand with the removal of those not eligible, the closing-down of squats in the town centre and the dismantling of people-smuggling rings.

A policy based on such principles and goals, which does not weaken asylum but makes it stronger in order to face up to these challenges, must unite all members of the Republic. The reform of asylum must wait no longer./.

Published on 20/05/2015

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