Men warm themselves next to a fire at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Reuters
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday he was not opposed to introducing quotas for migrants, part of an effort by his government to heed voters’ concerns about immigration that are being seized upon by far-right political rivals.
The government, closely allied to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, is walking a political tightrope because it is under pressure too from its own supporters who opposed any measures they view as pandering to the far-right.
Setting out the government’s position in a parliamentary hearing on immigration, Philippe said it was important to act with humanity towards migrants.
But he said: “The question of being steered by targets for admissions for residency is not a taboo. I’m not afraid of thinking about the idea of quotas.” Philippe also said there would be a review of the system for providing free medical care to immigrants who do not have official status in France — a system that critics say is open to exploitation by illegal migrants.
“France should take care of all those who live on its territory. But it should be neither more, nor less, attractive than its neighbours,” he said.
France last year recorded 123,000 asylum requests, an increase of 22% on the previous year.
Macron’s government, while trying to navigate a middle course on immigration, has come under fire from both right and left.
Speaking last week, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, said the government was undermining national security by letting people with violent hardliner tendencies into the country.
“The government worsens a deadly danger every day, with its senseless immigration policy. The state is absent, dramatically absent, criminally absent.” In the debate on Monday, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the leftist France Unbowed party, said in remarks directed at the government: “You want to make the immigrant, once again, into a scapegoat, rather than the financier who pillages our wealth through fraud and tax evasion.” The deaths of at least 13 people early on Monday on an overloaded migrant boat that capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa have galvanized calls to shut down smuggler routes and revamp search-and-rescue efforts in the deadly central Mediterranean Sea.
The Italian coast guard said one of its vessels was about to begin the rescue about six nautical miles Italy’s southernmost island when the boat capsized. Survivors told the UN refugee agency that the migrants moved to one side of their unseaworthy vessel when they saw the rescue ship, capsizing it.