The Daily Telegraph
Migrants can ease population crisis in rural areas, says Macron
THE French president has infuriated Right-wing MPS by proposing relocating asylum seekers from overpopulated cities such as Calais to the countryside.
In a speech to prefects, the highest state representatives in the French regions, Emmanuel Macron argued that the country’s immigration policy was “absurd” and “both inefficient and inhumane. Inefficient because we find ourselves with more illegal foreigners than our neighbours. Inhumane because this pressure means we often welcome them poorly,” he said.
The centrist president suggested a win-win solution could be to dispatch immigrants to “rural areas that are losing population” and where the government would otherwise “have to shut schools”.
He said migrants would be more likely to be welcomed in such areas “than if we put them in zones that are already densely populated”.
The idea succeeded in uniting France’s Right and hard-right opposition, which argued that Mr Macron would do better controlling illegal immigration than simply passing the buck to the countryside.
Marine Le Pen of the National Rally party, whom Mr Macron defeated in April’s presidential elections, said: “(He) wishes to spread foreigners illegally in France to rural areas. We consider that they should be sent back to their countries. Incapable of applying the law, he wants to change it.”
Eric Zemmour, the far-right polemicist, said this proved Mr Macron believed the “great replacement” of native French by foreign immigrants was “a necessity”.
Eric Ciotti, MP for the conservative Les Republicans party, also waded in. “To wish to displace problems linked to immigration towards rural areas is a heresy and cowardly,” he said. “Macron continues his drive to deconstruct the nation.”
The rural relocation idea was part of a speech in which Mr Macron conceded that France was struggling to get a handle on illegal immigration and would have to toughen its immigration and asylum policy in an upcoming law, to be debated later this year.
“We have a system of financial, social and medical aid that is much more generous than that of our neighbours,” he said, suggesting such aid could be cut back under a new law. Medical aid for illegal immigrants in France is estimated to cost the taxpayer €1billion a year.
The two-pronged message followed dire warnings from some prefects that the situation was getting out of hand. L’opinion cited one as telling the president: “On immigration, we are leaking on all sides. In my département [county], half of all those remanded in custody are foreigners. And we don’t expel anyone anymore.”
France is estimated to have around 600,000-700,000 illegal immigrants on its soil. Some 13,400 were “expelled” last year, according to the interior minister. But only 30 per cent of those ordered to go actually left, with many filing lengthy appeals.
Mr Macron is said to be acutely aware of the recent gains of the hard Right around Europe, notably in Sweden, with one senior aide telling L’opinion that the Scandinavian country was “a social democrat paradise that has been totally overwhelmed by immigration and now has to take on gangs armed with grenades”.
Analysts say Mr Macron wants to welcome asylum seekers but also show he means to get tougher on illegal entrants. He wants to avoid his party being taken to task by 89 MPS from Ms Le Pen’s National Rally in a parliament where he no longer has an absolute majority.