France commits to 12,500 new places for asylum seekers
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France will cut processing time for asylum requests and boost housing for refugees while "systematically" deporting illegal economic migrants, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Wednesday.
Unveiling an "action plan" for dealing with tens of thousands of people who arrive in France each year, Philippe said it aimed to "guarantee the right to asylum (and) better handle migratory flows."
Philippe said 40 percent of asylum seekers and refugees do not have access to housing, and that the current 80,000 homes and shelters would be increased by 12,500 in 2018 and 2019.
France, which received 85,000 asylum requests last year, is grappling with a system that President Emmanuel Macron has described as "completely overwhelmed".
"We are not what France should be"
An aid worker who took part in a meeting at the interior ministry on the issue last week said he feared a "general hardening of expulsion measures" in the plan announced Wednesday.
"We are not what France should be" in striking a balance between humanitarian concern for refugees and observing a tough policy on handling economic migrants, Philippe said.
Asylum application from 14 months to six
He added the plan calls for additional resources to allow authorities to reduce processing time for an asylum application from 14 months to six.
Philippe said those who are denied asylum will be "systematically" deported, adding that the legal framework for their detention pending deportation would be "redefined" as part of a draft law to be introduced in September.
He said France would beef up means for integrating refugees such as language teaching, something Macron, elected in May, listed as a priority during his campaign.
Philippe also announced the creation of an inter-ministerial coordinator for integrating refugees into French society -- a key demand of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Last Thursday, EU interior ministers pledged to back a plan to help Italy, which has seen some 85,000 migrants stream into the country since the start of the year.
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