FRANCE: Draft Immigration Bill Threatens Human Rights

Extract of article published by Human Rights Watch on 06/11/2023 – accessible here.

(Paris) – France’s lawmakers are examining a draft immigration law that threatens to limit rights of asylum seekers and migrants, Human Rights Watch said today.

The draft law is to be debated in the French Senate starting on November 6, 2023, and is expected to move to the National Assembly in December. The government initially introduced the bill in February but in March postponed debate because of a lack of support in parliament.

“The French authorities are trying again to put forward a deeply flawed set of immigration measures,” said Eva Cossé, senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Dividing families and watering down rights for asylum seekers is not the answer to the country’s security concerns.”

Key concerns in the bill include:

  • Provisions to weaken existing protections, both for foreign nationals ordered to leave France and those being forcibly removed.
  • A provision to withdraw or refuse to renew a residence permit for a person who does not comply with “the principles of the Republic.”
  • Provisions to weaken rights of appeal for asylum seekers and for administrative procedures related to migrants.
  • Inclusion of a limited provision to end detention of migrant children under age 16 that would not protect children in French overseas territories, particularly in Mayotte, and those detained at borders or airports.

The draft law would enable the authorities to issue an order to leave French territory even if a person falls into a category or categories protected under existing law. Existing protections relate to personal and family situations, such as for those who arrived in France before the age of 13, have long-term residence in France, or are a spouse or parent of a French national.

The draft law would allow authorities to disregard these protections if the foreign national’s behavior is regarded as “a serious threat to public order,” despite the vagueness in the bill of the terms “serious threat” and “public order,” Human Rights Watch said.

The bill would also remove protections with respect to expulsion, an administrative measure aimed at removing a foreign national from French territory. Under current law, an expulsion order can be issued against a foreign national living irregularly in France who is deemed a “serious threat to public order,” including if they demonstrate behavior considered detrimental to the “fundamental interests of the state,” “engage in terrorism,” or “encourage discrimination, hate or violence.”

There are currently protections against expulsion for foreign nationals that mirror those for an order to leave France. The bill widens the circumstances in which people in those protected categories can nonetheless be expelled if they are deemed a “serious threat to public order,” lifting the few safeguards for the so-called protected categories. Under existing law, a person can be expelled if they have received at least a 5-year prison sentence. Under the proposed law, anyone convicted of an offense that can carry a 5-year prison sentence could be expelled, even if they received a much shorter sentence.