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Africa

France in U-turn on migrant quotas as Syrian boy's photo shocks Europe

media Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, cries after viewing his son's body in Mugla, Turkey Reuters/Murad Sezer

As European politicians react to the shock aroused by the photo of the body of three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach, France has executed a U-turn in its policy on refugee quotas. President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged EU members to accept "binding" quotas on Thursday.

Images of Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the surf - and his father's emotional account of how the little boy and his four-year-old brother "slipped through my hands" - have increased pressure on European leaders to address the continent's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

On Thursday Hollande joined Merkel in calling for binding quotas, a position he and Prime Minister Manuel Valls rejected a few months ago.

Hollande had planned to address the migrant crisis next Monday in his first statement on the question following the summer holidays.

But "public opinion is changing", as one of his advisors put it.

Hollande was still avoiding using the word "quotas" on Thursday, preferring the term "permanent mechanism" and French officials cited support for the far right as a reason for caution.

The right-wing oppositon rushed to decry the change of line.

"François Hollande has carried out a 180° turnaround since two months ago he was saying loud and clear that he was against this proposal by the European Commission," said René Huyghe for former president Nicolas Sarkozy's Les Républicains.

The government's former allies, the Greens, welcomed the change but wanted to know why it had taken so long coming.

"Hollande and Valls are terrified by opinion polls that say or claim that the French people don't want migrants or refugees," said Green spokesperson Julien Bayou. "I think François Hollande is beginning to realise the responsibility we have: hospitality, welcome, dignity for people who are fleeing abuses."

France and migration in figures:

  • France gave out 13 per cent more visas in 2014 than in 2013;
  • Of the 2.8 million visas granted, 2.6 million were short stay, mainly to tourists;
  • Long-stay visas were up 6.0 per cent to 182,549, although their number fell in 2011 and 2012;
  • 82,671 long-stay visas were granted to students and interns, 48,631 for to families of people already in France;
  • Five million people apply for residency papers to stay every year - 2.5 million people currently have them;
  • Since 2011 France has accepted 7,000 of the estimated four million Syrian refugees;
  • In 2014 64,811 people have applied for asylum in France – compared to 47,686 in 2009 – and 20 per cent were accepted – compared to 10,401 in 2009;
  • The lower house of parliament passed a law to speed up immigration and deportation procedures on 29 July.

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