On paper, the idea is more than attractive. On the one hand, the large cities are unable to absorb the arrivals of migrants and see camps regularly forming in their hearts and their outskirts, arousing frustration and rejection from part of public opinion. On the other hand, in rural areas, villages are dwindling, schools are closing and public services are moving away, for lack of sufficient inhabitants. So why not solve both problems simultaneously? This is essentially what Emmanuel Macron suggested on September 15, during an intervention before the prefects about the future immigration bill scheduled for the beginning of 2023.
“Our policy today is absurd”, declared the Head of State because it “consists of putting women and men who arrive, who are in the greatest misery” in the poorest neighborhoods. It would be better, he added, to distribute them better over French territory, particularly in “rural areas, which are losing population” where “the conditions for their reception will be much better than if we let’s say in areas that are already densely populated, with a concentration of massive economic and social problems.” So much for the theory. But, in practice, the suggestion of the Head of State is absurd to say the least. Explanations.
Speaking of “the women and men who arrive”, Emmanuel Macron suggests that all situations are equal, including from the point of view of the right to accommodation and the integration process in France. However, the generic term “migrants” covers very different realities. If it is about asylum seekers, often at the top of the concerns of governments, the solution recommended by Emmanuel Macron is all the more surprising since it has already been implemented by the government. Indeed, under the acronym Snadar (or national scheme for the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of refugees), the State has set up, following the 2015 crisis, a system to distribute asylum seekers in accommodation outside their region of arrival.
A document organizing this “national distribution” for 2021-2023, with supporting figures, is freely available on the website of the Ministry of the Interior. The idea is simple: relieve congestion in Ile de France, where 46% of demand is concentrated for 19% of accommodation capacity in the national reception system, and steer towards the regions and departments with the least demand. If he refuses this guidance, the asylum seeker is not entitled to accommodation elsewhere and loses the benefit of financial assistance. In 2021, more than 15,000 people have been reoriented. A figure very close to the objective set by the government.
Going further seems complex. Firstly because there are almost a quarter of asylum seekers who prefer to refuse removal, either because they have family or relations in large cities, or because they work there , including illegally. Then, because the device also has its perverse effects. It is now easier to obtain accommodation after an evacuation from a Parisian camp or by registering in Paris than by applying from another area, which further increases the concentration of applicants and the formation of camps in Parisian region. Finally, because, for a large part of the “women and men who arrive” to use Emmanuel Macron’s term, the State does not really have a say.
Among them, some have residence permits in good and due form and are free to settle wherever they wish like any other citizen. However, the history of immigration in France, the available accommodation often lead them to Ile-de-France or to large cities where they know they can benefit from family or geographical solidarity… at the risk, in fact, of worsen the situation of the poorest neighborhoods. But the state has little power in this area. And even if he managed to convince these families to settle in rural areas, the inhabitants of these villages would still have to accept their settlement without gnashing their teeth. We see today, in a certain number of impoverished small towns, whose centers have been emptied of their historical inhabitants, the National Rally making very high scores.
Finally, among the migrants who today attract the attention and arouse the fed up of part of public opinion, there are a number of people who have had their right to asylum rejected, people in an irregular situation, holders of short-stay visas that have not been extended. However, all of them prefer to stay in the big cities where they can blend in with the masses, work illegally or prepare to leave for Calais and Great Britain. It is hard to imagine the State offering them to settle in the countryside. Expellable, threatened with an obligation to leave French territory (OQTF), they are much more a matter of the “repressive” aspect of government policy than of any desire to welcome them.
With this idea of better distribution of “newcomers” to the territory, Emmanuel Macron wanted to show that his future bill would be based on a subtle balance between “appease” and “protect” the French. He forgot that when it comes to immigration and asylum, the simplest solutions are rarely the best and that many of his predecessors broke their teeth on “yakafokon”. By not distinguishing the situations of each other, it also penalizes the integration of those who are destined to remain on French territory without tackling the obstacles that prevent the achievement of its objectives in terms of irregular immigration. All sprinkled with a singular amnesia of the policy led by his own government team. Under these conditions, the great debate on immigration, wanted in the fall by Elisabeth Borne to curb the ardor of her Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, and the discussions around the bill promise to be more than agitated.