France’s National Assembly has passed a controversial immigration reform law that shortens asylum applications and introduces a one-year prison sentence for entering France illegally.
The law, approved on Sunday after 61 hours of debate, has exposed divisions in President Emmanuel Macron‘s young centrist party.
The tough new measure passed in a vote of 228 in favour, 139 against and 24 abstentions, with much of the support coming from Macron’s La Republique En Marche Party (LREM).
Only one LREM deputy, Jean-Michel Clement, voted against the bill and later announced that he was quitting the president’s centrist-majority party.
“I am not sure we’re sending to world citizens the universal message that has always been ours,” Clement said in a statement after the vote.
Opposition to the measure could be found across the political spectrum with politicians of both the right-wing and leftist parties voting against it, as well as the far-right National Front, who have criticised the bill for being too lax.
The French government introduced the draft bill in February to fulfil an election promise.
The bill aims to simplify and speed up asylum-application processes, along with allowing migrants to be detained for up to 135 days and giving police greater powers to fingerprint them.
Additionally, it reduces the time that asylum seekers have to submit their application from 120 to 90 days and gives them only two weeks to appeal if rejected.
The bill also includes provisions aimed at helping those whose asylum applications are accepted to better integrate into French life.
According to Human Rights Watch, shortening asylum application deadlines could negatively impact the “most vulnerable asylum seekers, who would be the ones most likely to miss the deadline”.
“Under the guise of providing a more effective asylum system, the bill includes a series of measures that would diminish access to protection,” HRW said in a statement.
Amnesty International France said in a statement a few minutes after the law was passed that it was “dangerous” for migrants and asylum seekers and that it “failed to address difficulties facing migrants and asylum seekers in France”.
The French government argues that the bill is balanced and that it seeks to comply with European Union regulations with regards to immigration, to be on equal footing with other EU member states.
In an effort to quell opposition, the government proposed an amendment to soften legal provisions aimed at punishing traffickers and smugglers who profit from migrants in order to compensate nonprofit groups that help defend or provide humanitarian aid to asylum seekers.
France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, an increase for the third consecutive year, even though the number across Europe fell.
The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration where it will be debated in June.