“We welcome everyone who is fleeing war and persecution but we distinguish refugees from those who are migrating for other reasons, notably economic,” Collomb told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, echoing a theme already invoked by President Emmanuel Macron.
The government’s immigration policy has come under the spotlight recently as migrants have been cleared from the streets of Paris and others have returned to Calais, nine months after the closure of the “Jungle” camp there.
On Monday Collomb announced the opening of two new reception centres in the Calais region, following a court order to provide water and sanitation for migrants who head to the Channel port in the hope of travelling to Britain.
In Sunday’s interview he avoided condemning the city’s right-wing mayor, Natacha Bouchart, for refusing to make water available to migrants, saying that “you have to put yourself in the position of local people”.
“Efficiency and generosity”
France’s policy must “marry efficiency and generosity”, the minister told the paper, explaining that “it’s a question of accepting people but also of organising returns [to migrants’ countries of origin]”.
Claiming that opinion polls show a “growing reticence” towards the right of asylum, Collomb presented his policy as a way of defending it.
Terror risk high
On the fight against Islamist terror groups, the minister said that 217 adults and 54 minors have returned to France from conflict zones in Iraq and Syria.
Legal action is “systematically” taken against them and a number are in prison at the moment, he added.
“The risk of terrorism remains very high,” Collomb said, confirming a previous announcement that seven planned attacks have been foiled since the beginning of the year.
More than 18,500 people are on the government’s terror watch lists and their number continues to rise, according to the minister.