France unveiled plans on Wednesday to add 10,500 additional housing spots for migrants as European countries grapple with how to handle a wave of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean. The government is planning 5,000 housing units for people granted asylum in France, 4,000 for asylum seekers and 1,500 emergency slots for illegal immigrants. The move came after conflict arose between France and Italy over who should handle the waves of migrants landing on Italy's shores. French daily Le Monde criticized the move as "one humanitarian dose, one for the expulsion."
In seven years, the number of asylum seekers has nearly doubled in France to reach more than 66,000 cases in 2013. As a result, there is a severe lack of housing facilities and half of all asylum seekers have to fend for themselves, resorting to living in slums, squats or sleeping on the street. Processing these asylum requests takes an average of two years, but legislation proposed in July aimed to shorten the wait to nine months by 2017, giving authorities dealing with the cases more funding and staff. The managing director of France Terre d'Asile, a group representing asylum seekers, greeted the news cautiously. "It is a sweeping plan of a type that has never been put into place until now," Pierre Henry said. He added the increase in housing would require close vigilance as the plan will involve a variety of players from around the country.
Meanwhile, French authorities cleared hundreds of migrants from two camps, one under a rail bridge in Paris and the other in the northern port of Calais in the last two weeks. In a bid to reach Britain, 385 migrants had been living in desperate humanitarian conditions near the La Chapelle Paris metro station in the 18th arrondissement close to the Gare du Nord station. Because of the burgeoning flow of migrants fleeing war, poverty or persecution in the Middle East and Africa, the humanitarian situation has become precarious, as the region could face an epidemic due to poor sanitary conditions.
France, Italy and Germany agreed on Tuesday to join forces to identify migrants arriving by sea and to swiftly relocate them across the EU, or send them back to their home countries if their claims for asylum in Europe are rejected. Some 15,000 migrants were turned back at France's borders in 2014, and with the tougher border controls, the number is expected to rise, French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve had said earlier.
European authorities are struggling to come up with a plan to confront a growing surge of migrants, many fleeing conflict or poverty at home. Under the EU relocation plan, the bloc would accept 40,000 refugees from outside the 28-nation grouping and share them around EU states in proportion to each country's population. Germany and France are expected to take about 40 percent of the migrants. However, the EU relocation plans have raised concerns in France and Germany, and Britain has said it would not participate and some eastern states have called for a voluntary scheme. Recently, Bulgaria, the bloc's poorest member, announced that the country seeks to limit the number of migrants it accepts, fewer than the relocation plan suggests.