France rounds up Tunisian migrants
It's just a plastic card, but for a penniless Tunisian it's gold: a six-month EU residency permit many hope will give them a new start in France. But it may not be enough to ward off police.Paris -- "In France, even with the papers, I am afraid," Moez, a lanky 39-year-old from southern Tunisia, told AFP in Paris this week, showing his own temporary residency card issued by Italian authorities.
In the wake of Tunisia's revolution, Moez sailed like tens of thousands of others to the Italian island of Lampedusa and made his way illegally into France, crossing on foot because he could not afford to pay a trafficker.
French police returned him to Italy, which promptly granted him the permit on humanitarian grounds, legally entitling him to stay in the European Union under the bloc's open-borders treaty.
But France has vowed to deport migrants who cannot support themselves and has started rounding up Tunisians from its streets. Activists say those arrested include migrants with legal Italian permits.
Police said they carried out the latest round of arrests on Wednesday night, detaining immigrants who were sleeping rough in parks in Paris and Marseille and drawing condemnation from rights groups.
In Marseille, about 15 immigrants were arrested as non-govermental organisations intervened to try to house them, Bernard Eynaud of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told AFP.
Paris-based Tunisian civil group FTCR said police swooped on immigrants at a site in Paris where the Red Cross was serving free meals.
"We are truly scandalised by these methods," said FTCR representative Omeyya Seddik, who witnessed the Paris arrests.
"The FTCR denounces the racist targeted raids organised in Paris against young recently arrived Tunisian immigrants, the vast majority of whom have a valid residency permit," the group said in a statement.
"The French government persists in using brutal repression to respond to the suffering of Tunisian immigrants who have lost all their personal resources during their journey and must sleep rough without food."
Turbulence in the Arab world has triggered a wave of migrants.
Many French-speaking Tunisians hope to reach France, which has close ties to its former colony, and turned its back on its dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali only after he was ousted in January.
France insists however that it does its fair share in helping what it regards as genuine political refugees and has taken a tough line on the spillover, threatening to temporarily suspend the visa-free system.
On Tuesday, France and Italy, which had quarrelled over the handling of the migrants, suggested allowing EU states to re-impose internal frontier controls temporarily in case of a major influx of migrants.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sparked an uproar last summer by rounding up Roma minorities from unauthorised camps and deporting them to Romania and Bulgaria.
Critics allege Sarkozy is competing for votes with the far-right National Front, whose support has been growing, according to polls.
"Citing risks of an invasion is a political move to stir up fear and xenophobia," the French Human Rights League said in a statement.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has warned the migrants will be expelled if, like Moez, they do not have the means to support themselves in France.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe branded the arrests "shocking" and called for the immigrants to be housed.
Gueant responded in a letter that it was "not up to the state to provide" for them. Some will be sent back to Tunisia while those with Italian-issued permits will be returned to Italy, he wrote.
"Italy wants to help us. Why is France not helping us?" said Moez, insisting he wants to work. He declined to give his family name.
"We are not thieves, we are not terrorists. We come here for a better life, that is all," he said. "I did not leave my country to come and be a beggar."
Jeremy Tordjman / AFP / Expatica