The most disputed point of the reform provides that each asylum seeker will have to wait three months before accessing the Protection universelle maladie (PUMa), that is the total health coverage enjoyed by all French citizens and which is now guaranteed immediately to those who apply for a form of protection. PUMa will also be reduced from one year to six months for asylum seekers whose claim has been rejected. The French government has explained that in this way it intends to discourage migrants who enter France to do "health tourism", that is to receive high-level care that is not guaranteed in their countries: New York Times estimates that in 2018 about 320 thousand people without a defined status have benefited from medical treatment paid by the French state (the treatments considered urgent will continue to be guaranteed even in the new system).
Critics of Macron accuse the government of wanting to lower reception standards and to punish asylum seekers for electoral consensus: the restriction on free medical care "is a gift to the extreme right," he told the Financial Times Francois Gemenne, a migration expert who teaches at the Sciences Po in Paris. For years, in fact, the Rassemblement National led by Marine Le Pen had accused migrants and asylum seekers of weighing too much on French social services.
The measures proposed by Macron are only the last step of a right-wing turn started some weeks ago, especially with interviews and declarations. Last week Macron guaranteed a long interview with the controversial right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles in which he said he wanted to "drive out" asylum seekers who do not have the right to remain on French territory. In September, he said to Europe 1 radio that "France cannot welcome everyone if it wants to welcome well".
Several analysts believe that Macron is tightening its immigration rhetoric to limit the consensus of Rassemblement National. "The number of migrants in France is not one of the first priorities of the electorate," writes the Guardian, "Who is more interested in arriving at the end of the month and in the solutions for climate change, but Le Pen's party continues to insist on the issue of immigration and will try to remove more and more votes from the traditional right".
Immigration is no longer one of the themes most felt by the French – and in the summer it was already certified by the Eurobarometer, the official survey of the European Union – but recently it has returned to the center of the political debate. In 2018, around 124 thousand people applied for protection in France, 23 percent more than in 2017 (less than half in Italy, around 50 thousand). Many of them arrive by land from European border countries, attracted above all by the fact of speaking French or by acquaintances and relatives who are already living in France. In several cities, including Paris, improvised refugee camps have been set up by asylum seekers awaiting a response to their request.
Macron is still trying to balance the anti-asylum seeker rhetoric by opening up legal avenues for immigration. Yesterday, Prime Minister Philippe announced that a quota system will be created by the summer, which will allow some categories of workers to move to France legally, depending on the needs of certain sectors of the French economy. It is not yet clear how the quotas will work – what their size will be, how and when they will be established, which categories of foreign workers will be affected – and when they actually come into effect. In the past, such a measure had already been proposed by the center-right administration led by Nicolas Sarkozy.
Meanwhile, two refugee camps were evacuated in the Seine-Saint-Denis area of northern Paris on Thursday morning. A total of 1,606 people have been transferred to reception facilities, while Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has promised that the situation of each of them will be examined by the authorities.
Autour d 'a millier de personnes doivent etre mises a l'abri, pour l'essentiel dans des gymnases en Île de France avant que leur situation administrative soit examinee pic.twitter.com/bYlubOH0hP
– Julia Pascual (@JuliaPascualita) November 7, 2019