Eric Zemmour has an enthusiastic following for his anti-immigration platform | Photo: Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP
Eric Zemmour has an enthusiastic following for his anti-immigration platform | Photo: Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP

The extreme-right candidate Eric Zemmour has proposed to create, if he is elected president, a ministry of "remigration". The goal: "to send back one million" foreigners in five years on charter flights, and to get rid of "illegal immigrants, delinquents and foreign criminals, and foreigners on file". This proposal is riddled with problems.

What he said:

In a speech televised on the private M6 channel, Zemmour on March 21 said that he wanted to create a ministry of "remigration" [also known as re-immigration, a far-right political concept referring to the forced return of non-ethnically European migrants] if he is elected president, to expel foreigners in France on a massive scale.

"The ministry will have the funds, it will charter flights, we will have large groups on them," said the former journalist.

The figures put forward by Zemmour are inconsistent. On the one hand he says he wants to "send back one million" foreigners in five years. But he also proposes "the deportation of 100,000 undesirable immigrants per year", which would represent a total of 500,000 people during his potential five-year term as president.

The people concerned by these deportations would be, in particular, "illegal immigrants, foreign delinquents and criminals, and foreigners on file," according to Zemmour, who describes them as "foreigners who are no longer wanted".

The candidate also added that he himself would go, if he won the election, "to the Maghreb to meet with the leaders of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia to see how we can organize this".

What is he talking about?

"Remigration", a term that exists in extreme right-wing circles, is a concept borrowed from the nationalist identitarian movement, some members of which are active in Zemmour's entourage.

These groups advocate "the return to their countries of origin of a majority of non-European immigrants," and they are not only talking about migrants.

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: Are the far-right candidates' immigration plans possible?

Are there one million foreigners in France who can be deported?

According to official figures, which are more like estimates, the simple answer is no.

In terms of irregular immigrants in France, there were an estimated 368,890 in 2020, according to the National Health Insurance Fund for Employees, which takes as a reference the number of beneficiaries of the Aide médicale d'Etat [state health assistance available to undocumented migrants in France] in that year. Taking into account those receiving benefits, the overall estimate is around 400,000, according to the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii).

However, not all of them can be deported. The number of Obligations de quitter le territoire français (OQTF: a deportation order pronounced either when an application for a residence permit is rejected, or following an arrest) issued amounted to 107,488 in 2020, according to data from the General Directorate for Foreigners in France (DGEF). This is a reasonably high figure compared to other countries, but it amounts to less than one-third of the total number of people concerned. Moreover, these OQTFs do not mean that the people who receive them are at risk of deporation. It is an administrative act indicating that the people concerned must leave the national territory by their own means.

In 2021, according to provisional figures from the DGEF, 16,819 foreigners were involved in deportation procedures, forced or not.

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: The 'great replacement' is a xenophobic conspiracy theory

Why the proposal of mass deportation is extremely problematic:

Deportations are highly regulated in a number of different ways. First of all, European law prohibits the return of a person to a country where his or her life or physical integrity could be in danger. This rule covers a wide range of cases. Afghans, for example, are fully covered by this condition. But it can also be the case of a sick person who will not have access to adequate treatment in his or her country of origin, as Tania Racho, a doctor of European law and member of the legal fact-checking collective Les Surligneurs, explained to InfoMigrants in early March.

Being in an undocumented situation in France is not a crime. A foreigner has time limits and can lodge appeals against the deportation procedure that targets him. Moreover, an OQTF is only valid for one year. Thus, in order to carry out Zemmour's policy, observers believe that the law governing removal measures would have to be ignored.

"The law, as it is configured, cannot authorize mass deportations," explained Didier Leschi, the director general of the Ofii, in his book "Ce grand dérangement, l'immigration en face".

Read more: French Presidential Election 2022: 'Migration debate has become more radicalized'

At the heart of the matter, though, is the fact that the removal of a foreigner is conditional on the issuance of a "consular pass" by his country of origin, when he no longer has his identity papers. In his book, Leschi recalls that one of the major difficulties lies in the refusal of certain countries to issue such passes. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia "have no desire to recover their illegal nationals in France," he explains.

Zemmour promises to take up this issue and blackmail these countries to get his way, but Paris is already limiting visas to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, precisely in response to their refusal to repatriate their nationals.

In addition to the legislative obstacles to these announcements, the far-right candidate's proposal comes up against more pragmatic considerations. To achieve the 100,000 expulsions per year advocated by Zemmour, about 8,000 expulsions per month would have to be carried out. These mass deportations would require the construction, or at least the opening, of new administrative detention centers (CRAs) throughout the country, with much larger capacities. Currently, the French CRAs can only hold a total of 1,762 detainees in total.

 

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