France shows harsh face to some immigrants

12th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 12, 2007 (AFP) - France shows a harsh, intolerant face to the thousands of illegal immigrants it deports every year under tough new policies adopted by Nicolas Sarkozy, the man tipped to become the nation's next president.

PARIS, April 12, 2007 (AFP) - France shows a harsh, intolerant face to the thousands of illegal immigrants it deports every year under tough new policies adopted by Nicolas Sarkozy, the man tipped to become the nation's next president.

But it smiles on people like Zazil Morales, a young Mexican being taught how to become a model citizen in her adopted country.

Morales is one of a couple of dozen people -- among them Chinese, Africans, Sri Lankans and Americans -- taking a compulsory course this week about life in France ahead of signing a contract with the state obliging them to live according to French customs in return for residency papers.

The expulsions and the civics lessons are two prongs of Sarkozy's plans to avoid the social "explosion" he says will occur unless immigration is brought under control.

His controversial policies have turned immigration and national identity into key issues in the presidential election whose first round comes on April 22.

The Socialist Segolene Royal, trailing just behind Sarkozy in the opinion polls, has tried to steal some of her rightwing rival's fire by encouraging every home to buy a French flag and for every citizen to learn the words of the Marseillaise, the national anthem.

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has spent a lengthy political  career calling for a complete stop to immigration, for his part says Sarkozy is merely aping his policies.

Rioting across France in late 2005 in the predominantly immigrant suburbs -- the worst civil unrest here in nearly half a century -- highlighted France's strained integration policies.

Sarkozy says that France must have "chosen" immigration rather than immigration "imposed" on the country.

 Morales and the others, gathered on Wednesday afternoon in the bright, modern rooms of the National Agency for the Welcome of Foreigners and Migrations in the Bastille district of Paris, are among the chosen ones.

They have come to sign the Welcome and Integration Contract, which has become obligatory for all non-European Union immigrants to France since the start of the year.

Before signing it -- a necessary prelude to getting residency papers -- they are shown a 15-minute film about life in France and what rights and duties they have here.

The film starts with a shot of the Eiffel Tower and goes on to show the various regions of the country, while a voice-over explains that France is a democratic country much attached to liberty and equality, where "women do not need to seek permission from their fathers, husbands or brothers."

For those who do not yet speak good enough French, headsets are available providing translations in 10 different languages.

"It was interesting, but I knew most of that already, because I've been here for three years," said Morales, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist who is married to a Frenchman.

After the film she got a short individual interview, during which her French was tested and she was informed on how to apply for French nationality after she has been here for a certain number of years.

And then the interviewer set her dates for the next two days of lessons, one on the practical side of life in France -- how to enrol children in school, how to get health care, how to find a job and accommodation -- and another that outlines the history and politics of the state.

Morales' French is fluent, so she was able to avoid the otherwise compulsory language lessons.

She thought the idea of signing the contract with the French state was a good one: "It's good they just don't leave you to your own devices."

So did Sherry Brisson, a 44-year-old from the US state of California who was also signing her contract on Wednesday.

"I wish they had something like this in the States. Nobody speaks English in California, just to go shopping I have to speak Spanish," said Brisson, who has been in France for the four last months.

Nearly 100,000 signed this contract last year, and this year an even greater number is expected to so since it is now obligatory.

The signatories are not given nationality, but if they stay in France, don't get in trouble with the law, and hold on to their job, or get married to a French person, they will eventually be entitled to apply for citizenship.

Britain has also just introduced similar measures, requiring people wanting to live permanently in the country to pass a test in English as well as in the country's politics, history and culture.

French unemployment -- currently at 8.4 percent -- is among the highest in Europe, but most economists agree that the country needs a steady flow of immigrants to fill the jobs the French do not want to do and to balance the effects of an ageing population.

How to manage that flow -- and what to do about the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants alrady here -- has become a burning issue likely to dominate politics for long after the current presidential campaign is over.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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