The bill has sparked widespread anger from NGOs, who have branded it repressive, but the centrist government insists it is creating a more efficient system to sift out genuine refugees from those simply seeking a better life in France.

A man wearing a mask holds a placard reading
A man wearing a mask holds a placard reading "a good migrant is a tax-dodger or a tax exempt" during a gather called by the French Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), to protest against the immigration law on February 21, 2018 in Paris. (AFP)

The French government defended a new immigration bill as "completely balanced" on Wednesday despite criticism from rights groups and some ruling party lawmakers that it will lead to thousands of extra deportations.

The draft law, which criminalises illegal border crossings and speeds up procedures to deport economic migrants, was presented to the cabinet of President Emmanuel Macron for the first time.

"It's a well-balanced law, in line with European law above all, and it is absolutely necessary that countries like Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have the same type of procedures," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told a press conference.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

Easy deportations

Macron, the 40-year-old centrist elected last May, says the new policy aims to balance "efficiency" with "humanity", but the issue has become one of the most divisive of his young presidency.

He has highlighted how the law would offer faster asylum procedures for refugees and improve their lives once accepted in France, but some members of his Republic on the Move (LREM) party have broken ranks.

The bill doubles the time that failed asylum seekers can be held in detention to 90 days – a move aimed at making it easier to deport them – and halves the amount of time applicants have to mount appeals.

"The most vulnerable will be punished," warned Jean-Michel Clement, an MP who joined the LREM after switching from the Socialists.

Some workers at France's refugee protection office Ofpra went on strike in protest on Wednesday, branding the bill "an unequivocal departure from France's tradition of asylum."

They joined staff at the asylum court who have been on strike for nine days over their working conditions, with immigration lawyers also raising concerns over aspects of the draft law.

The bill will be introduced in parliament in April, with debate expected to last several weeks.

While left-wingers see it as too punitive, the right-wing opposition has labelled it too soft.

Source: AFP