The subject of immigration was somewhat absent from the demands of France’s “gilets jaunes”, but it has re-emerged in Emmanuel Macron’s letter to the French people of 13 January. “Our country has always welcomed those who flee wars, persecution, and who seek refuge with us […]. Today this tradition is beset by tensions and doubts about both immigration and the flaws in our system of integration”, said the president. “What do you propose for improving integration within our nation? On immigration, once our asylum obligations are fulfilled, would you like us to fix annual objectives, to be defined by parliament?”, he asked.
The reintroduction of the migration question – one unconnected to the current crisis, as indicated by preliminary surveys on roundabouts – into a great national debate, and the return of a figures-based policy of quotas, has aroused indignation among numerous NGOs, including Cimade and France Terre d’Asile . And this just after the first measures of the new asylum-immigration law, shrinking the rights of exiled people (including an increase of the duration limit on detention, and shortening of deadlines for deposing asylum demands), entered into force on 1 January.
Wood for the trees
In France the migration debate has traditionally been reduced to the issue of border control, to the detriment of the question of how to integrate the immigrants already present, who are too often the victims of economic and social discrimination. “We can’t see the wood for the trees”, to use the expression of Philippe Frémieux in a September 2018 column . It is certainly true that the law “for controlled immigration, effective asylum rights, and successful integration”, adopted in August 2018, emphasizes the first two objectives, taking little heed of the “72 propositions for an ambitious policy for integrating foreigners arriving in France”, submitted last February by the LREM MP for Val d’Oise, Aurélien Taché.
“The current focus on the numbers of new arrivals must not obscure the legacy presence of migrants who have been settled for years, and their children”, insistes the OECD in a recent report comparing integration policies across the EU since 2007. In general these policies seem to have improved in recent years, but “much remains to be done to help immigrants, in their ensemble, to participate economically and socially in their host societies”, says the organization’s secretary-general Angel Gurria. Such measures would allow immigrants to better “settle in”, as the report is entitled.
And on this point Emmanuel Macron is right: French in