France to amnesty 7,000 immigrant families
PARIS, Sept 18, 2006 (AFP) – French authorities Monday announced an amnesty for 7,000 illegal immigrants with school-age children after a high-profile campaign to block their deportation, but ruled out a blanket amnesty for tens of thousands more.
The figure fell far short of meeting demands of campaigners, who dismissed it as a token gesture and vowed to fight on against plans to expel thousands of families under a toughening of French immigration policy.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said 6,924 adults out of 30,000 who applied for the exceptional measure would be allowed to remain in France with their children, in an interview to be broadcast on France 2 television.
“This is the final figure … now we will return to the normal procedure,” Sarkozy said. He did not say how many people in total parents plus children would be affected.
The French authorities agreed in June to examine residency applications from thousands of illegal immigrant families with children in French schools after parents, schoolteachers, rights groups and left-wing politicians mounted a grassroots campaign in their support.
The Education Without Borders Network (RESF) which led the campaign against their deportation said the amnesty was a mere “bluff”, handled in a “totally arbitrary” manner.
RESF spokeswoman Brigitte Wieser said families were treated on a first come, first served basis, rather than on individual merit.
“This is causing a lot of anger, because people had placed a lot of hope” in the government, she said.
Cimade, an immigrant support group, said it too was “hugely disappointed”.
“The number of people to benefit was fixed in advance by the ministry, before the prefectures even started examining the applications,” charged the group's secretary-general Laurent Giovanonni.
“This is an electoral choice, not one taken in people's interests,” she said.
“It is too little. It's a drop in the ocean,” agreed Fidel Nitiema, a spokesman for a group of hundreds of illegal immigrants who were evicted from a squat near Paris last month.
Sarkozy who has championed a tough line towards France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants conceded that it was “hard to judge” individual cases, but insisted all were given a fair treatment.
“In France, decisions are not arbitrary,” he said.
The minister a frontrunner for next year's presidential elections in which immigration is shaping up as a major issue repeatedly rejected campaigners' demands for a blanket amnesty.
Because no papers are needed to register a child in a French school, the government argued that to grant residency rights to all such families would create a new channel for immigration.
To qualify, at least one child had to be born in France or have arrived before the age of 13, he or she must have been at school in France for two years, and have no link with their country of origin.
Families also had to show they had “a real will to integrate” with French society, and that their children had stayed out of trouble with the law.
The government has vowed to step up the pace of deportations to 25,000 this year from 15,000 in 2004 and recently scrapped the automatic right to residency papers for migrants who have been in the country at least 10 years.
Sarkozy insisted in the interview that blanket immigrant amnesties in other European countries had proved to be a “catastrophe” and had led to “an explosion in demands” for immigration.
Half a million people are to benefit from a Italian amnesty this year, while Spain last year granted residency rights to 580,000 people. Around 80,000 were given residency rights under a previous Socialist government in France.