Working towards solutions with local communities
The Municipality of Montreuil has developed an “International Exchange and Decentralised Cooperation Service” centre (Service Échanges Internationaux et Coopération Décentralisée / EICD) in order to foster an international politics of solidarity through local cooperation, together with migrant communities.
Over the years, the city has built up a network of services offered to foreign residents and asylum seekers. These include literacy and writing courses, legal and administrative support, various forums and social housing, all of which are provided in collaboration with migrant support associations in the area.
During a period of tense relations between the state and local authorities in September 2018, the municipality requisitioned a disused state building (AFPA / Adult Vocational Training Agency) and converted it into an emergency reception centre.
What is unique about the city?
A laboratory for innovative approaches: Located in the eastern suburbs of Paris, Montreuil has a history of high migration, making it a place where not only migration-related challenges are particularly visible but where, at the same time, many successful local political solutions have been tested. Montreuil has a rich history of migrant self-organisation and in the last few years the municipality has been active in, for example, supporting the political activism of undocumented migrants and has clashed with the national government over the housing situation of migrants.
“As a full citizen, each Montreuil resident must be able to participate fully in democratic life; this is an essential condition for us to all live together and be equal.”Mayor Patrice Bessac
What is the focus of local migration policies?
Unconditional access to rights and services: The development of local services for foreign residents (whether with a residence permit or undocumented) and refugees is closely bound up with changes to the local political landscape. Under Mayor Patrice Bessac’s new left-wing coalition, Montreuil is gradually moving from a reactive “ad hoc” approach to services intended for specific groups, to an “unconditional access” model for all residents. The city has developed several programmes fostering economic, cultural and legal inclusion.
Political activities and advocacy beyond the city level
In Montreuil, migrant reception and welcome policies have been a point of debate for many years, illustrated, for example, in 2009 in connection with the reception of the city’s Roma population. The city is proud of its history of international solidarity, which dates back to 1985, when it signed a partnership with Mali, marking the beginning of what would later be called decentralised cooperation. Many more international partnerships, including with cities in Latin America, Asia and Turkey, followed. In 2015, Montreuil became a founding member of the ANVITA (Association Nationale des Villes et Territoires Accueillants) network. In September 2020, Mountreuil declared its support for the National March of Undocumented Workers (Marche nationale des Sans-Papiers) in a resolution adopted by the city council. Representatives of the National March described Montreuil as a “welcoming, solidarity city, linked to a universal citizenship.”
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The city report contains more information about the city’s migration and inclusion policies and selected local approaches.
Political context of France
Migration policy in France
French migration policy is centrally coordinated, more specifically by the Directorate General for Foreigners in France (DGEF), which cooperates with the Interior Ministry on immigration, asylum, integration and nationality law. Although regulations are centrally imposed, cooperation with local territories has intensified since 2015 in response to the so-called “migration crisis”.
French immigration policy has historically been influenced by its colonial past. An 1899 law originally ensured French nationality to all foreigners born in France who had reached the age of majority. In 1993, this was reversed, meaning that nationality is no longer automatically granted. 1945 saw the introduction of the residence card, which has facilitated family reunification and “integration paths” since the 1950s. In 1956, policies were developed relating to economic migration, in particular regarding foreign workers and their access to housing. Between 1981 and 1985 the Mitterrand government allowed the regularisation of 130,000 “irregular” foreigners, and in doing so relaxed some previous measures. By the mid-1980s, the so-called Pasqua laws (“Lois Pasqua”) had once again limited entry requirements and facilitated deportations. In 1990, Prime Minister Rocard declared: “[...] I think that we cannot harbour all the misery in the world, and that France must remain what it is, a land of political asylum [...], but nothing more.” Since the 2000s, French policy has increasingly aligned itself with European policy, tightening entry requirements for immigrants.
The right of asylum, a fundamental value of both the 1946 and 1958 constitutions, has progressively aligned itself with the EU’s 2009 asylum package.
According to the INSEE, in 2018 there were 6.5 million immigrants living in France, while the number of French people “of foreign origin” amounted to 7.7 million.
Between 2008 and 2019, the number of asylum seekers in France steadily increased, before dipping in 2020. In 2019, 132,614 applications (including those of unaccompanied minors and repeat applications) were submitted to Ofpra (the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) – an increase of 7.3% compared to 2018. In 2019 36,512 people were granted protection by France (an increase of 9.5% compared with 33,330 in 2018).
Key developments of recent years
France suspended the Schengen Agreement, and reintroduced border controls with Italy as early as the 2011 Arab Spring. During the 2015 “refugee crisis”, France dismantled the Calais jungle camp and established the Reception and Orientation Centres (CAO), with approximately 12,000 places available, intending to accommodate newly arrived migrants for a maximum period of 3 months. These structures belong to, or are rented by the state, and are intended to temporarily welcome migrants and “encourage them to reflect on their migratory project”. In 2015, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Hollande government declared a state of emergency and reintroduced border controls.
In line with the EU approach, the past 5 years have seen a number of significant developments in French migration and asylum policy. Firstly, it has become policy to examine asylum applications outside French territory. Later, border controls were also tightened, with documented cases of the refoulement of unaccompanied minors, and recurrent, if not systematic, violations of fundamental rights, including “de facto” detention. Thirdly, many asylum seekers are without accommodation and camps are regularly dismantled in big cities or in the north of France (e.g. Calais, Grande-Synthe). Reception capacity has also been restricted, with only about 51% of asylum seekers declared eligible for practical reception assistance being accommodated. In addition, a high number of status holders leave reception centres with nowhere to go. In the first half of 2020, only 1,755 people exited the reception system with accommodation to go to. Many of the rest end up homeless or living in informal settlements.
Progressive campaigns and their achievements
In September 2015, Interior Minister Cazeneuve sent a letter to mayors across France, inviting them to a meeting in order to “implement the reception proposals under the best conditions”. The meeting marked the start of a decentralised reception process.
At the national level
On 18th December 2020, a “national plan for the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of refugees for 2021-2023” was published. The plan envisages the potential to adapt reception policy to new migration contexts as well as to specific regional contexts, including a better distribution of asylum seekers across national territory.
At the level of civil society, collaborative networks have opposed state policies of non-reception and developed alternative proposals through dialogue with the country’s municipalities.
The creation of the Estates-General on Migration in 2018: “The Estates-General on Migration is a process in which hundreds of collectives and local or national associations active on the ground are involved alongside foreigners. All over France, these actors work together, organise public events to denounce current policy, and to propose radical changes in migration policy.”
The “Sans Papiers” (undocumented migrants) movement organised several marches, the highpoint of which was the march on the Elysée palace in October 2020.
At the local authority level
Created in 2018 by nine founding cities, the Association Nationale des Villes et Territoires Accueillants (ANVITA) (National Association of Welcoming Cities and Territories) brings together territory bodies, community groups and elected representatives. Members work together to implement an unconditional welcome policy for “exiled” people and to promote hospitality on French territory. Currently, there are almost fifty members in the Association. One of its main demands involves full access to public services and equal rights for all residents.