French rights groups slam plans for migrant charter to Kabul

7th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

French rights groups and the left-wing opposition Tuesday slammed government plans to deport dozens of Afghan migrants rounded up in the port of Calais, reportedly on a joint charter flight with Britain.

Riot police detained scores of mostly Afghan migrants last month, many of them minors, when they bulldozed a makeshift camp called the "jungle" that was used as a base to cross the Channel to Britain.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told Le Monde newspaper on Monday that charter flights would leave in the coming days to deport failed asylum seekers.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said after the raid on 22 September that Paris and London would mount joint charter flights to deport the migrants, the first by the two countries since 2005.

Besson's ministry denied a claim from an aid group saying that a Franco-British charter was to leave London for Kabul on Tuesday night, stopping to pick up 10 migrants in northern France.

But the Cimade migrant support group and some 30 other associations issued a joint call for the government to abandon its plans for charters to Kabul.

"Afghanistan is a country at war. It is unacceptable to send people back there who escaped to Europe in search of protection," they wrote.

About 276 migrants were detained in the 22 September Calais raid, but judges in the various towns where they were sent to detention centres have ordered around 100 of them to be released over rights breaches.

But Besson told Le Monde that Sarkozy was determined the charter flights would go ahead.

"The head of state was categorical... in saying that the dismantling of the Calais “jungle” must be followed with repatriations, or else we will never settle this problem," Besson said.

Britain, which last year stopped 28,000 migrants trying to cross the 35 kilometres (22 miles) of water separating it from France, praised the raid.

But activists denounced it as a media stunt that would drive migrants further underground.

Rather than rounding up migrants, both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the EU's justice commissioner say the priority should be to offer full and fair asylum rights to migrants across the European Union.


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