By Sarah Goodman
Rabat – French president Emmanuel Macron ended 2017 in a televised address gesturing to his plans for the coming year, including changes to toughen the country’s laws on immigration and asylum.
The French parliament is expected to debate the proposed legislation in the first quarter of the year. Such measures would harden the existing laws by making it easier to expel undocumented immigrants more quickly and in greater numbers.
Critics of the proposed changes are concerned about an expedited asylum process and worry that such legal changes might also buttress anti-immigrant sentiments across France.
During France’s presidential election last May, nearly 40 percent of the vote went to the far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen, who campaigned on pledges to stop immigration to France.
Already in parts of southern France, new railway brigades of the police border force have been vested with the power to stop and search passengers’ identity papers, hoping to control undocumented immigrants suspected of traversing the country aboard its nexus of internal railways.
In an interview with the BBC, Pascal Mailhos, the prefect of the Occitanie region of southwestern France, spoke favorably of the new security measures introduced by the state.
“Obviously, the action we are taking against illegal immigration goes beyond just our borders and requires a lot of coordination with our neighbors” and that “this new brigade add[s] another element in the mission against this type of criminality.”
However, activists and volunteers have questioned the consequences of such measures, fearing they will create greater desperation on the part of migrants. As temperatures plummet and conditions deteriorate, many are concerned that such measures may cause migrants to take more drastic measures to find transport.
In Calais, a port city located on France’s northern coast, there have been three hit-and-runs in as many weeks, where migrants have been found dead or injured on the side of the motorway. The most recent of these tragedies occurred on Tuesday.
As Annie Gavrilescu, the regional head of France’s branch of Help Refugees, wrote in the Huffington Post, “there is nothing we can do when refugees become so desperate.”