France is to clear out some migrant tent camps, impose quotas for migrant workers and deny newly-arrived asylum seekers access to non-urgent healthcare, in a drive to show voters President Emmanuel Macron is heeding their concerns about immigration.
“We want to take back control of our immigration policy,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, a Macron appointee, told reporters as he unveiled a package of measures on immigration.
“That means when we say yes it really means yes, and when we say no, it really means no.”
Opinion polls show voters are worried about the issue, and that sentiment is driving support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is likely to be Macron’s main opponent in the next presidential election in 2022.
Polling shows her popularity is rising with voters while Macron — though still in the lead — is slipping back.
Macron’s centrist administration has so far resisted pressure from right-wing rivals on immigration, in part because many of his own liberal supporters are uncomfortable with any measures they feel are pandering to xenophobia.
But in announcing the new measures, France joins other European states, among them Italy, Britain and Sweden, that have opted to take tougher approaches on migrants since the outbreak of the Syria conflict in 2011 triggered a migrant crisis across Europe and fueled populist right-wing parties.
The French prime minister said the 20 new measures on immigration his government unveiled on Wednesday were the mark of a “France that is open but is not naive.”
“I think we have found the right balance between reassuring our citizens and not giving ground to populism,” he said.
The prime minister said that migrant tent camps in eastern Paris would be razed by the end of this year, but he did not say what would happen to similar camps in other parts of the country.
At the same time, thousands of new homes would be made available for asylum seekers, he said, so that they could live in dignity.
Philippe also said the test for acquiring French citizenship would be made more exacting, and that the government would aim to process asylum applications within six months.