Protest as French Senate debates contested bill toughening immigration laws

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the French Senate on Monday as lawmakers began debating a bill intended to toughen the country's immigration laws.

The government said the measure would strengthen and accelerate the process of deporting foreigners who are regarded as “a serious threat to public order.”

The legislation includes a provision that would give legal status under certain conditions to undocumented individuals working in specific sectors with labour shortages.

However, advocacy organisations have criticised the bill as a threat to the rights of asylum-seekers and other migrants.

The upper house of parliament is dominated by conservatives who are opposed to giving legal status to workers who entered France illegally, arguing the move would create a “pull effect” that encourages more migrants to come to France.

Aboubakar Dembele, an activist for an undocumented workers' group, said denying undocumented people the right to benefits such as health care was a danger to the health system as a whole.

The Senate debate is the first step in what is likely to be a long and difficult legislative journey.

The bill was postponed several times this year due to a lack of support from a parliamentary majority.

Several non-governmental organisations have criticised the overall legislation as threatening migrants’ rights.