Asylum claims in France hit a record 100,000 last year, official figures showed today, as President Emmanuel Macron's government draws up hotly-debated new legislation on immigration. Officials said the rate of arrivals was "historic", with Albanians forming the biggest group of applicants despite their country being considered safe by France. "It confirms that France is one of the countries receiving the most asylum claims in Europe," Pascal Brice, head of France's refugee protection agency OFPRA, told AFP. "It's a historic level," he added, though he noted the numbers are just half of those seen in neighbouring Germany last year. Macron's government is preparing to unveil a bill on immigration next month, but his centrist Republique En Marche (Republic On The Move) party are divided on how to tackle the issue. Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe have vowed to speed up the process for managing asylum requests and offering improved conditions for successful applicants. But they have also promised a much tougher line on economic migrants that would see an increased number of deportations and tighter controls on people arriving. Last year France forcibly removed 26,000 people from the country, a 14 percent increase on the year before, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told AFP today. "The goal now is to improve the conditions of repatriation, whether voluntary or forced," he added. In his New Year's message, Macron had warned that France "cannot welcome everyone" although he pledged an immigration policy that walked the line between "humanity and efficiency".
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