5 million immigrants living in France: census
Agence France Presse
PARIS, Aug 24, 2006 (AFP) – France is Europe's biggest immigrant country, home to nearly five million foreigners, and their numbers have risen markedly in recent years, according to a study by the INSEE national statistics institute published Thursday.
The findings, derived from 2004 data, showed that immigration from other countries in Europe was generally falling except for Britons and Portuguese and that the influx from Algeria and Morocco was growing.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in France's upcoming presidential elections, due to be held in April next year.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative frontrunner to take over from Jacques Chirac, has made immigration the centrepiece of his run for the presidency, notably by cracking down rigorously on illegal immigrants and ramping up deportations.
His chief opponent, Socialist politician Sgolne Royal, has criticised Sarkozy's desire to select more qualified immigrants as a “brain drain” that will leave poorer countries even worse off.
According to the INSEE study, France has a total of 4.9 million immigrants, or 8.1 percent of its population of around 60 million.
More than a third of them (35 percent) came from what are now the 25 EU countries, while slightly fewer (31 percent) come from north Africa, principally Algeria and Morocco.
Most of the remainder (29 percent) come from Asian countries especially Turkey and from sub-Saharan Africa, principally from former French colonies. Their numbers leapt considerably between 1999 and 2004.
The overall 1999 figures showed 4.3 million immigrants living in France in 1999 and 4.2 million in 1990, suggesting a steep jump in recent years, although the study's author, Catherine Borrel, said the 1999 census had probably “underestimated” the number of foreigners.
While the proportion of Europeans is declining, Britain has bucked the trend by supplying 45,000 more of its citizens.
Overall, though, the number of European immigrants living in France has dropped to 40 percent of the total, a significant drop from 30 years earlier, when the majority 57 percent were from the same continent.
According to Sarkozy, between 80,000 and 100,000 illegal immigrants arrive in France each year.
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