Anger as France deports Afghans on British flight
France deported three Afghan asylum seekers to their war-torn country on a joint charter flight with Britain on Wednesday, overriding angry protests from rights groups and the opposition.
The three men, all from Kabul, were sent back to the Afghan capital on a flight carrying 24 other Afghan deportees from Britain, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told a press conference.
Once there the trio would be put up in hotels for up to two weeks, and would each be offered EUR 2,000 (USD 3,000) and help to resettle, he said.
France deports some 25,000 illegal immigrants every year, under a toughening of immigration policy championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But the prospect of chartering flights to send migrants back to Afghanistan, where France is a leading contributor to an international force fighting a Taliban insurgency, has run into a wall of protest.
Besson said that all three Afghans had applied unsuccessfully for asylum in France and had lost several appeals against their deportation including before the European Court of Human Rights.
"The simple fact that someone's home country is at war does not automatically entitle them to live in any one of the world's large developed nations," he said in a statement.
Opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry said the decision to resume group deportations to Afghanistan was "unworthy of France."
"These charters are truly shameful," she charged. "We are in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and men who are running from the Taliban... are sent back right into the lion's jaws."
A deputy from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, Etienne Pinte, also said he was "very shocked" by the charter flight.
Britain's Home Office confirmed that a British-French migrant charter, the first organised jointly by the two countries since 2005, had left for Kabul.
"The majority of the people on the flight were from Britain, but we will not give any further details until the operation is completed," a spokesman said.
The group's return comes a month after French police raided a migrant camp known as "The Jungle" in the northern city of Calais, which had become a base for illegal passage to Britain via Channel ports or the undersea rail link.
One of the three deportees was detained in Calais, another in a squatter park in Paris and a third on the Italian border, Besson said.
The French government said this month it would resume charter flights to deport failed Afghan asylum seekers, provided their home region is deemed safe.
Besson pointed out that other European Union countries regularly deport Afghan illegals, with Britain alone sending back 373 in 2008, and that 180 Afghans had returned home volontarily from France this year.
"France itself has put in place forced return measures to Afghanistan every year for the last decade," he said, including under the Socialist government between 1997 and 2002.
Some 40 pressure groups and charities have issued a joint call for European governments to stop deporting Afghans, so far gathering 14,000 signatures according to the asylum group France Terre d'Asile.