The Daily Telegraph

Migrants can ease population crisis in rural areas, says Macron

- By Henry Samuel in Paris

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.

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