Grassroots mobilises for immigrant children

24th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 24, 2006 (AFP) - Samira and her two sons Alex and David have been playing hide-and-seek with the French authorities for the past month, to avoid being expelled to Azerbaijan under a toughening of policy towards illegal immigrants and their children.

PARIS, May 24, 2006 (AFP) - Samira and her two sons Alex and David have been playing hide-and-seek with the French authorities for the past month, to avoid being expelled to Azerbaijan under a toughening of policy towards illegal immigrants and their children.

Backing them is a support network — of teachers, parents, rights activists and left-wing politicians — that is waging a grassroots campaign against plans to expel hundreds of immigrant families with school-age children.

France's centre-right governmnent has vowed to step up the deportation of illegal immigrants — who number 200,000 to 400,000 in the country — as part of a toughening of immigration policy backed by three-quarters of the public.

The rhythm of expulsions has been steadily rising, from 15,000 in 2004 to 20,000 last year, and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has set a national target of 25,000 expulsions for 2006.

Families with children enrolled at school have been given the right to remain until the end of the school year on June 30 — at which point state officials are under instructions to arrest and conduct them to the border.

"At least 10,000 children" enrolled in French schools are at risk, according to the Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which is campaigning for the children and their families to be given French residence permits.

Sarkozy defended the government's policy during a trip to Africa last week: "If I allow people who have children enrolled at school to remain in France, I will be creating a new channel" for immigration, he said.

Anyone is free to register their child at a school in France — without having to produce identity or residence papers.

Schoolteachers and parents opposed to the plan say many of the children concerned are well-integrated and thriving in the French school system — and that to deport them would go against the very principles of the Republic.

"The idea of a child being handcuffed and bundled onto a plane to return to face a life of poverty is quite simply outrageous," said Richard Moyon, a teacher and member of the RESF network.

RESF charges that many of those concerned have been unfairly denied political asylum in France and could face persecution upon their return home.

Since late April, more than 27,700 people have signed an RESF petition against what they denounce as a 'childhunt' — pledging to "sponsor, protect and house" the children and their families, even if it means breaking the law.

"If they ask us for shelter, we will not turn them away... We will not turn them over to the police," they promise.

Well known signatories include the Socialist former minister Jack Lang and the anti-globalisation icon Jose Bové and the protest movement has found a strong echo in the left-wing media.

"France is set to turn into a strange country: thousands of children will be forced into clandestine existences... Holidays for some, fear and persecution for others," wrote Libération newspaper.

The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has come out in support of the campaign and "civil sponsorship" ceremonies have been staged at a number of left-wing town halls to lend an air of officialdom to the protest movement.

In some cases teachers, students and their parents have taken in entire families threatened with expulsion — and the protest movement has already notched up a string of victories.

In one high-profile case, Rachel, 15, and Jonathan, 14, a brother and sister from the Democratic Republic of Congo were granted a stay of expulsion after spending two months on the run.

This week, in Evreux north of Paris, the authorities called off plans to deport an Angolan mother and her 16-year-old daughter following a strike by staff at her high-school.

Since 2004, the RESF network has blocked dozens of deportations — which are part of a wider move to tighten immigration rules under Sarkozy's authority.

French lawmakers this month voted in a "selected immigration" reform — which aims to favour skilled workers and cut back on family reunification, while scrapping automatic residence rights for illegal immigrants who have spent 10 years in the country.

Sarkozy strongly denies that his policies are racist — Africans make up a majority of illegal immigrants in France — warning that a failure to combat the phenomenon would only play into the hands of the xenophobic far-right.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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