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Migration/Schengen Area/government statement in the National Assembly on the reception of refugees in France and Europe

Published on September 24, 2015
Speech by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister

Paris, September 16, 2015

President of the National Assembly, ministers, deputies,


Europe is facing a migration crisis of exceptional scale and gravity. It is the consequence of global imbalance and disorder: conflicts, either overt or bubbling under the surface, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, countries in a state of collapse – I am thinking particularly of Libya here –, climate change and its consequences – floods, drought and the resulting shrinkage of farming land – and lastly, the difficult living conditions: the poverty, hunger and disease that drive so many people to leave home in search of places that promise something better – in the main, I wish to recall here, from countries of the South to other countries of the South.

This migration crisis, the largest in Europe since the Second World War, confronts the European Union with a historic duty. It also requires France to meet the standards set by its rank, set by its history. Gripped by the violence of the reality, by the harshness of the images, by emotion – we all have in mind, as was recalled again yesterday, the picture of Aylan, and I could speak of all the other victims we have not seen, like the 22 dead in a shipwreck off Turkey yesterday – our country, it appears to me, has once again demonstrated that it is capable of the very best. There is the mobilization of recent weeks, to which I shall return. But well before that, the President of the Republic and the government had taken the full measure of the challenge, and we took considered action.

France, true to its values, knows what it is. It considers the situation with very great clarity of mind. The refugee issue, because it affects lives, personal destinies and hopes, requires clarity of thought and integrity.

The right of asylum, ladies and gentlemen deputies, is a fundamental right of which the source is to be found in our history, in our international undertakings and in our obligations to the Community. It is France’s mission to welcome any person who is persecuted for their ideas or who is exposed to risks to their integrity. The French government, irrespective of the circumstances, will never call that right into question, which is a matter of honour and a benchmark of freedom for all those around the world, men and women, suffering from violence and oppression. Emotion can move mountains. We feel that emotion. It gives us strength. But it cannot be the sole guide for government action.

We owe those fleeing war, torture and persecution more than noble sentiments. Sentiments can in fact change radically according to circumstances. We must act in accordance with principles: humanity and solidarity, but also seriousness and control.

We need hearts, naturally, but ours hearts must be guided by intelligence. Hearts that are firm. Hearts that are clear-sighted. Such clarity of mind, standing before the nation’s elected representatives and through you, before the French people, must begin with the precise naming and description of circumstances.


In the last two years the numbers of illegal immigrants arriving in the Schengen Area has increased spectacularly. In 2014, Italy was essentially the major focus of attention. The count in Italy was 170,000 illegal arrivals, 60% of the European total.

Since the beginning of this year, while the numbers of immigrants on the Italian route, most coming from Libya, have declined slightly, two new routes, used by massive numbers of people, have opened up: the first from the Balkans, with a 15-fold increase in volume, and the other from Turkey, travelled by Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. From mid-July, this latter flow has drastically intensified, increasing by a factor of 10 compared with 2014. In all, there have been 230,000 arrivals since January.

Yesterday, the Frontex agency estimated the number of people illegally crossing the external borders of the EU at 500,000 in eight months. Naturally, the countries of Europe are affected by this in very different ways, in the first place due to geographical considerations. Germany is very much affected, and the talk is of possibly a million arrivals, after the 400,000 already recorded in 2014. The situation in France is completely different at this stage, with numbers of asylum applications remaining virtually unchanged at around 65,000, even falling marginally in 2014. But it is nevertheless true that the entire continent is under unimaginable pressure.


Clarity also means analysing these flows and arriving at the right diagnosis in order to take the right action. There are refugees from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan who need protection.

There are also migrants who do not have refugee status. They come for example from the Balkans – Albania and Kosovo, safe countries therefore, the EU’s neighbours.

They also come from West Africa. The vast majority of these migrants fall into the category of illegal immigrants. The truth is there; we must recognize it. We must remind ourselves of it: they must return to their countries of origin, with due respect for individuals and in accordance with the law, but with firmness. If not, we would be undermining the very principle of the right of asylum.

I am aware that in this debate there are some who propose to create a new status limited to refugees fleeing war, a status that would last as long as the conflict. I consider all proposals with interest. But why create something that exists already, in the form of European temporary protection or subsidiary protection under French law?

Those who set out by this means to undermine the right of asylum are in error. They should re-read the European directive in question! I’ve done so. Under no circumstances does temporary protection deprive an individual of the right to seek asylum. And those who obtain it – that is what asylum means – can decide to stay because they are now living their lives here, or to return to their country of origin when conditions permit. We must avoid adding confusion to a debate that deserves clarity.

Once again, we need clarity of thought, method and a sense of responsibility,
because, faced with these destroyed lives, with images that shock our consciences to the core, faced with the numbers, our fellow citizens – I know it and you know it – have been beset once again in recent days by feelings of deep unease, concern and a sense of disorder. And disorder in the world all too often comes from disorder in messages and adopted positions. The disorder in positions is a disorder of values, to the extent that some wish – how could we accept it? – to sort refugees by religion, choosing between Christians and Muslims. That is not what France is! That is not what asylum is!

France must continue to be in the eyes of the world a beacon that does not waver in the storm, that does not yield to the temptation of turning a blind eye, of the easy option. There are some who tell us: “We must keep them out”. To say that is to close one’s eyes to refugees dying on our doorstep. Others say quite the opposite:

“We must open our arms”. To say that is to close one’s eyes to reality and the difficulties in French society. My duty, and the duty of the government, is to think clearly, because we are responsible, we are governing the country. Our duty is to take action. Considered action. First of all, action internationally.


We are intervening militarily in Africa, in Iraq and in Syria. We are fighting barbarity in order to come to the aid of peoples, to restore peace. As I said here yesterday, and as everyone has said: our armed forces, our diplomacy, under the leadership of the Head of State, are fully mobilized, because, as we know, the solution to the refugee crisis lies essentially in those countries!

But the solution is also in Europe. As early as August 2014 – it is important to remember this, since memory is useful in any debate – the Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, at the request of the President of the Republic, on visits to a number of European capitals, urged Europe to take steps in view of the deteriorating migration situation. Not in August 2015, in August 2014! We put forward at that time a road map based on our principles of humanity, solidarity, control and firmness. That road map proposed for the first time a holistic solution addressing all the issues.

First, control of the external borders of the European Union – that is obviously the key issue – by strengthening the action of Frontex in the Mediterranean, which have gradually replaced Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation. Because Mare Nostrum was a courageous initiative on the part of Italy acting alone to save lives, but which resulted in greater numbers rescued and greater numbers of deaths – the people-smugglers seized on such rescues at sea as a pretext for stepping up their deadly traffic.

Additionally, control of external borders must also involve more effective identification, in accordance with the Dublin regulation – I stress this – of individuals eligible for international protection. And lastly, I repeat, it must involve a more active policy of returning those not eligible for it.

The second component of that same road map: a determined effort to combat illegal immigration rings, people-smugglers, traffickers – the slave-masters of modern times, as described by one of you.

The third component: stronger cooperation between the European Union and countries of origin and transit, in order to stabilize populations, assist them in controlling their borders and, of course, provide the necessary humanitarian aid.

The road map we put forward made a substantial contribution to the policy decided on by the European Union. This was formalized particularly in the European Agenda on Migration of 13 May 2015. Since then, our position, despite the emotive context, the tumult, the debate, has remained unchanged. But once again, we have an obligation to speak the truth. We may regret that France’s new awareness, its action and its proposals have not been sufficiently shared, notably at the latest meeting of the European Council in June.


And finally, we must take action domestically. We have reformed asylum. Nobody had done so to this extent. The situation – everyone agreed on this – was no longer tenable: demand had risen by 73% between 2008 and 2012. We set out to shorten the time taken in processing, from 24 to nine months for rulings on applications, in order to reduce the pressure on our reception facilities, to return to a more effective, more humane procedure. This also means those refused asylum must be returned to their countries of origin, which, for a very long time, has been done little.

This legislation, put forward by Bernard Cazeneuve, is the result of extensive preparatory work, based particularly on the national bipartisan consultation organized by myself – not in 2015, not in 2014, but in 2013 as Minister of the Interior, in conjunction with UDI senator Valérie Letard and socialist deputy Jean-Louis Touraine.

I invite you, ladies and gentlemen deputies, to move forward on these issues together because the nation’s elected representatives and, by the same token, France are stronger together when it comes to winning Europe over.

You also passed on first reading the bill for legislation on foreign nationals as a necessary adjunct to the reform of asylum. You will debate this once again this autumn. Its aim is to restore France’s attractiveness for international talent by providing for multi-year residence permits. But it also means greater effectiveness in combating every aspect of illegal immigration: fraudulent documents, abuse of process, and people-smuggling rings.

Without waiting for this legislation to come into force, the government has stepped up its efforts to counter these rings. Bernard Cazeneuve has frequently reminded us of the figures in recent days: 177 such groups have been dismantled since the beginning of the year, which represents over 3,300 individuals, compared with 1,800 in Germany over the same period. In Calais – as has been mentioned this afternoon – police numbers have been increased fivefold in three years.

Since June, 42,000 arrests have been made. And this effort must continue, because we are well aware of the difficulties. An agreement has been reached with the United Kingdom, which will contribute up to €35 million – as Bernard Cazeneuve reminded us a few minutes ago – to enhance the security of transport infrastructure and support humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable migrants. This commitment by the United Kingdom thus restores the balance of the Le Touquet Agreements.

In Menton and the Alpes-Maritimes, which I visited on 16 May, as the Minister of the Interior also has on a regular basis, controls have been strengthened in accordance with the Schengen Agreement. Over a period of eight months 20,450 individuals have been arrested.

This firm stance is bringing results: despite the context and despite the difficulties, the migrant flows in Menton have stabilized. But we are fully aware of the challenges that remain to be overcome.

In the spring we restored temporary controls on this border and will not hesitate to do so again, as is permitted by the Schengen rules, on every occasion that circumstances so require, if it’s necessary, in the coming days or the coming weeks.

I know how demanding this policy to control illegal immigration is and the effort it requires from the security forces and prefecture staff, and I wish to pay tribute to them. In 2014, 15,000 deportations were carried out, a figure likely to rise to 16,000 in 2015. Deportations to countries outside the European Union are the most difficult because, as you know, nothing is easy in this field – the Interior Minister could also remind you of the number of deportations by plane organized from Calais. The number of those deportations increased by 40% in 2014. This is an unprecedented effort, an effort that is essential if we are to apply a sustainable policy on migration, and if we wish to preserve the right of asylum.

So, given this additional burden on our services, and in order not to weaken the systems for combating terrorism and crime, we have decided, in response to a proposal from the Minister of the Interior, to increase the numbers of police and gendarmerie, and in particular border police, by 900. In total –ladies and gentlemen deputies – remember this figure – 5,330 additional posts in the police and gendarmerie have been created since 2012. We are truly ensuring the safety of our compatriots.

Yes, we are taking considered action in every domain, and I wish to recall here the presentation of the migrant plan in June by Bernard Cazeneuve and the Minister for Housing, Sylvia Pinel. That plan provides for the creation of extra reception capacity: 4,000 places for asylum applicants and 5,500 to meet the urgent needs of those who have already been granted refugee status but whose situation remains precarious. All these places are in addition to an already exceptional shelter capacity for 1,500 individuals.

We must now go further, and put the required resources very rapidly in place by October. The Minister of the Interior indicated last Saturday to France’s mayors that, by 2017, aid of €1,000 per accommodation place created will be allocated to communes and federations of communes contributing to the effort of solidarity. This exceptional support comes in addition to the accommodation policy for which central government is responsible. And I wish to pay tribute here to all those elected representatives who have mobilized throughout the country in the spirit of the Republic, to give practical expression to this surge of solidarity. That meeting, Minister, last Saturday at the Maison de la Chimie, with all the mayors representing every locality in the Republic, once again showed the best side of France.

I also want to pay tribute to the non-governmental organizations – the NGOs – the religious faiths we have spoken to, the housing associations that have mobilized, and I do not forget, of course – and we hear accounts of this every day – the citizens who get involved for no personal benefit, volunteering to provide a welcome for refugees. I’d like us to remember this commitment by our compatriots at this time, because that is also the face of France.

In total, €279 million will be released by end of 2016 for initial reception, emergency accommodation and flat-rate amounts of aid to communes, as well as to increase the staff of OFPRA, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, which we have constantly been increasing since 2012, and OFII, the French Office for Immigration and Integration, as well as the national education system, which needs to take in pupils and parents, provide facilities for learning the French language and pass on our Republican values. Solidarity means guaranteeing a proper reception for refugees and asylum seekers. But such solidarity – and this point is very important for our fellow citizens, and one on which I give an undertaking to you – must not worsen the situation of our fellow citizens who need our help, who need the nation’s solidarity, because the argument that may be advanced is clear to us – that we help those who have just arrived but not those who have long been in difficulty.
That argument can be a cause of further division, which all the proponents of populism and gesture politics will be quick to exploit.

Throwing the spotlight on one emergency does not mean consigning all others to oblivion. We cannot offer an uncompromising assessment of the divisions besetting our society – as we ourselves did in this forum on 13 January 2015 – only to forget that priority the very next day.

It is therefore our task to ensure that everyone receives the assistance they need. For that reason, over the next 12 months, the funds earmarked for emergency accommodation and social care will be increased by €250 million, including €130 million next month, because it is our duty to apply the principles of solidarity.

Solidarity for refugees is part of an overarching migration policy which does not lose sight of its goals, which takes account of France’s realities, its demographics and its economic situation.

Will the face of France be changed? That is not the issue. What we want is for France to remain true to itself, to remain true to the message of welcome for refugees it has always expressed, while at the same time being able to maintain and consolidate national cohesion, and social cohesion.


Deputies, this government is taking clear, considered and firm action. But I repeat: nothing we do will be meaningful if Europe cannot succeed in finding and applying effective and sustainable solutions. That is the purpose of the proposals made by the French President, the German Chancellor and our two countries.

I wish to stress this, because current events require that I do so: for us there is consistency, especially in our relationship with Germany. What Germany does isn’t extraordinary for Europe one day and bad for Europe the next.

That is France’s strength: the constancy and the commitment of the President.
Faced with constantly increasing migrant flows, Europe, perhaps more than ever before in its history – and I am serious about this – must be able to find the right solutions, coordinated solutions, enabling events to be anticipated and not simply suffered. We are 28 countries, each with its own history, culture and geography. We naturally see things differently. There may be divisions – that is nothing new –, as was demonstrated by the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 14 September.

But Europe must move beyond its divisions. Europe is facing its destiny and may be left out of history; we are all very aware of the gravity of our times. So we must show daring and imagination to to fill the gaps appearing before our very eyes.

I shall give two specific examples. The first concerns the excessive disparity of our asylum policies from one country to another, a fact exploited by people-smugglers.

The second: our external borders must be controlled, and controlled collectively.
That is not the case now and has not been for many years. The situation in Greece testifies to it every day, as does the decision taken on Sunday by Germany and then other countries to restore controls on those borders temporarily.

I say again: we shall not hesitate to take a similar decision.

But in this context we need a comprehensive plan combining a response to the emergency and action for the long term. The urgent need is to organize the reception of refugees in Europe and to bring migrant flows under control. The Justice and Home Affairs Council, I want to point out, has in fact enabled the broad policy lines to be determined, which are now established.

The first point: we shall put in place – and France has been advocating this for several months – reception and registration centres – so-called “hot spots” – in the countries of first entry: Italy, Greece, Hungary and perhaps, in the future, Serbia, which is requesting this even though it is not a member of the European Union.

Those centres will make it possible to identify – in every sense of the term – and register every migrant. We will then be able rapidly to make a distinction between those needing protection and those not eligible for asylum. Such centres must start operating as soon as possible.

The first will be opening in the next few days in Greece. France is once again willing to contribute its expertise, as it has in Munich in recent days, by assigning staff from the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, and the French border police.

I want to be clear on this – this point is key to the success of the overall plan, to Europe, to the success of Schengen and to our very concept of the right of asylum: the relocation process must be applied in those reception centres and not in Germany or Austria. That is essential, I say again, if we want to move forward together in Europe.

Second point: in order to take in individuals in need of protection, Europeans must agree on a fair distribution process. An agreement put forward by the Commission already exists – this is sometimes forgotten – and arriving at that agreement was particularly difficult in June. It provides for 40,000 people to be taken in, of whom, as we have already announced, 6,700 are coming or will be coming to stay in our country.

That is why we are not talking about quotas. That term is a source of confusion. It is not suited to the issues posed by the refugees and the right of asylum, and moreover, as you know, it has connotations in the context of our national debate.

In order to cope with the increased flows, the Commission is now proposing to raise the number to 160,000. A large majority of member states subscribe to that target.
In our own country, this means that we would take in – as the President has undertaken to do – an extra 24,000. France is ready to do so.

It would be difficult for me to oppose this figure of 24,000 when we agreed on nearly 7,000 in June. We’re consistent, and my position is always consistent.

Everyone must shoulder their share of responsibility. Several countries, however, are now refusing to play by the rules. That is unacceptable, and I say this before the National Assembly. Those countries are actually forgetting their own history and the men and women we welcomed to France when they were fleeing communist dictatorship and persecution.

Everyone must make their share of the effort, depending of course on their abilities. That entails explanation, persuasion and publicly taking responsibility for decisions.

Solidarity is not a pick-and-mix value. It is valid for everyone and is thus a duty for everyone. Otherwise, the European project itself has absolutely no meaning. A further meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council is to be held at the beginning of next week. It is imperative that we make progress on this issue.

We are taking the initiative, particularly thanks to our diplomacy, represented by Laurent Fabius and Harlem Désir. The President will tomorrow be meeting the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. I myself will be in in Sweden and Austria on Thursday and Friday.

Third point: we must put in place a policy for the effective deportation of individuals present illegally on European soil. This is necessary if all of these policies are to have any credibility. That is also what is meant by serious action and control.

We therefore need to strengthen the role of Frontex, and France will be supporting the Commission’s proposals. The Schengen Information System must also be used to prevent migrants already refused access from entering [European] territory.

Additionally, the European Union has decided henceforth to authorize coercive military action in international waters against the boats chartered by the people-smuggling networks, while of course protecting the safety of individuals. France, which is already taking part in a whole series of actions in the Mediterranean, will be making a frigate available for that purpose in the next few days.

The fourth point – an essential one, a condition that must be met if anything is to be possible: we must cooperate more closely with the migrants’ countries of transit and origin by providing, in particular, a massive amount of humanitarian military aid to countries which agree to make considerable efforts to welcome refugee camps. As you know, and as we recalled yesterday, there are four million refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and hundreds of thousands in the Horn of Africa.

This cooperation is necessary for dismantling criminal networks trafficking in human beings and assisting in the rapid setting-up of centres in transit countries to assist the return of migrants and prevent migrants from leaving, as we are currently doing in Niger.

More generally, we will have no effective return policy without political dialogue, under the auspices of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and with the support of our diplomats, with the countries of departure. Such dialogue must begin soon, and it must specifically promote the readmission of illegal migrants to their countries.

Should we stop there? The answer is clearly no. We must help the countries of origin to improve their economic development, to provide better future prospects for their citizens and especially their young people. Those goals are at the heart of the Valletta Summit, which will be held on 11 November 2015.

Already the EU is considering the creation of a dedicated €1.8-billion fund to help resolve the crises affecting the regions of the Sahel, Lake Chad and the Horn of Africa. And I want to recall once again the proposal made by the President to organize – in order to increase this momentum further – a conference Paris could host early in 2016.


We must then consolidate a Europe-wide policy on migration. That will require, as I have said, greater harmonization of procedures where asylum is concerned. In this respect, the Commission’s proposal for a common list of safe countries, notably the Western Balkans, is a step in the right direction. Indeed, this has been agreed in principle by the member states. It must now become a practical reality.

Finally, we must strengthen the Schengen Area. I am aware of the debate on the question of borders, which we can feel passionate about. Nation states, despite the European Union, the single currency and the Schengen Area, have not disappeared! France is still there, and national borders continue to exist.

Schengen means free movement of persons. It is a key component of our European identity, of our security. But Schengen is also about effectively controlling the external borders, otherwise it doesn’t work.

For that reason I am pleased that President Juncker has indicated clearly that by the end of the year the Commission will be tabling a proposal to establish European border guards, because it’s an idea France has long been advocating.

I know that some would have us believe that the solution lies in the abolition of Schengen. The far right says “we told you so”. That formula perfectly encapsulates what populism is: a way of thinking which feeds on disaster and difficulty, which brings no solutions and makes it difficult for us to ensure our security.

We need more Europe to face up to the present refugee challenges, not less Europe.

In other quarters, in the debate relating to the values of the Republic, the proposal is for Schengen II. But what lies behind that proposal? It is my understanding that Schengen II means adhering to the rules of Schengen I. The main advantage, the main virtue of such a position is that it can give rise only to unanimity and a convergence of views.

It is also my understanding that the idea is to implement a European policy on asylum and effective control of the European Union’s external borders – that is, to do what we are doing now, to do what I am proposing to you now. I deduce therefore from this that, regarding Schengen II, the government is guided by common sense, and that this proposal sometimes comes up against a taste for superfluous polemicizing on migrant issues.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, what we are putting forward is an overarching plan that will, through consolidation – I repeat, through consolidation – enable us to preserve this fundamental component of the European enterprise. Any proposal that brings Europe to a standstill or calls Schengen into question calls Europe into question and calls into question what we are – that is, the identity and the security of France.


Ladies and gentlemen deputies, the issue of refugees, like the issue of their acceptance, remains one that questions our very identity. The question “who is the person I am accepting? ” is the mirror image of the question “who is the person doing the accepting?”.

Faced with this great influx at the gates of Europe, faced with these broken lives, faced with these images, French people have spoken with their hearts, but they are nevertheless gripped by anxiety.

France often has doubts: about its strength, its abilities and its identity. The refugee challenge is an opportunity for us to show just who we are: a strong, generous nation, a nation that has always guided the world and its peoples towards emancipation, liberty, the rule of law, human dignity and culture. A nation that welcomes the oppressed while standing firm on its values: liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism [laïcité] (1), because it is aware that it is such firmness that guarantees the survival and the strength of its founding principles.

Yes, this is a matter of honour; France will welcome migrants who otherwise will die on Europe’s doorstep.

It will affirm its values in accordance with its place, in accordance with the demands we make on ourselves, in accordance with what it expects of European solidarity.
If France were to take action without such control, without such firmness, it would undermine the reality of its universal message and the practical conditions in which we welcome these refugees, conditions we want to be exemplary.

That is precisely the difference between the duty to take in those between life and death and the possibility of accepting those with a legitimate wish for a better life.
Ultimately, it is clear to us, as I was saying a few moments ago, that these are serious times: the migrant crisis, the climate challenge and the terrorist threat. In this unstable world, our nations may run the risk of toppling into chaos.

For that reason it is more than ever the responsibility of this government, and perhaps also of those who have governed, to stand firm and send out to the world – to Europe, our partners, our neighbours, as well as the French people – this message of constancy, control and unity that is imperative on an issue of this kind, because those who wish for electoral reasons to exploit immigration, the refugee crisis, are making a serious mistake and will one day pay dearly for it.

France, a sovereign nation within the Europe it has helped build, is shouldering its duties, remaining faithful to its values and taking full responsibility for its decisions./.

(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.

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