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./.