Amnesty for 'thousands' of illegal immigrants

6th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 6, 2006 (AFP) - French officials said Thursday that thousands of illegal immigrant families with children enrolled at French schools are to be given legal status, following a grassroots campaign against their deportation.

PARIS, July 6, 2006 (AFP) - French officials said Thursday that thousands of illegal immigrant families with children enrolled at French schools are to be given legal status, following a grassroots campaign against their deportation.

"We know that we are going to grant residency papers to several thousand families," Paris police chief Yannick Blanc said in an interview appearing in Le Monde newspaper.

A nationwide protest movement has sprung up over plans to expel thousands of illegal immigrant families whose children are in French schools, with left-wing politicians, media and sports stars among tens of thousands to sign a petition pledging to protect them from what they call a "manhunt."

The children are from families who entered France illegally and were facing expulsion with their parents at the end of the school year, but campaigners say that most of them know no other country and that deportation would be inhumane.

Bowing to pressure last month, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy - the centre-right frontrunner for next year's presidential election - told regional authorities to reconsider cases on the basis of new criteria, such as whether a child has "strong ties" to France.

Thousands of parents have since been queuing up outside processing centres - clutching their children's report cards and sports trophies - in hope of qualifying for residency papers.

The new requirements include showing that one of their children was born in France or arrived before the age of 13, has been at school in France for two years, or has no link with the country of his or her parents.

Blanc said 2,300 families had so far been given appointments, with more to come, although he warned that not everyone would qualify.

Because French schools are obliged to take in children regardless of whether they are in the country legally, the government says that to give residency rights to all pupils' families would encourage illegal immigration.

The Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which has coordinated the protest campaign, estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 children of illegal immigrant families are in the French school system.

RESF says the government's move concerns only a fraction of families facing expulsion and has vowed to keep up the pressure.

Blanc said the campaigners' fears that children would be tracked down over the summer months were "illegitimate" and "verging on slanderous" towards the police, saying officers in the capital did not arrest minors.

Under fire from critics who draw a parallel with the hunt for Jewish children during World War II, the government has symbolically appointed lawyer Arno Klarsfeld - son of the French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld - as mediator with the families concerned.

Blanc stressed there were no plans for a blanket amnesty of France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 clandestine immigrants - as under the Socialist government in 1997-1998 when 80,000 people benefited from the measure.

Under Sarkozy's authority, France has vowed to step up the rhythm of illegal immigrant deportations to 26,000 this year.

Parliament also last month approved a new immigration law - attacked by the left-wing opposition - which seeks to encourage more qualified workers to come to France and tightens entrance rules for other foreigners.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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