Row intensifies over school-age 'deportables'

20th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 19, 2006 (AFP) - A political row intensified in France Monday over the fate of thousands of young illegal immigrants, who campaigners fear could be deported with their families once the school term ends in less than two weeks.

PARIS, June 19, 2006 (AFP) - A political row intensified in France Monday over the fate of thousands of young illegal immigrants, who campaigners fear could be deported with their families once the school term ends in less than two weeks.

The opposition Socialist Party (PS) publicly joined forces with a nationwide protest movement that has vowed to protect children threatened with expulsion after June 30 when a government moratorium expires.

"I reaffirm our wish for no young person to be expelled and I solemnly ask the government to take the necessary steps so that the threat is lifted. We have asked our deputies to mobilise," said PS spokesman Julien Dray.

Left-wing politicians, media personalities and sports stars have been among thousands to sign a petition which promises to provide refuge for threatened children and thwart what former Socialist minister Jacques Lang described Sunday as a "manhunt".

Others have taken part in "adoption" ceremonies where they guarantee shelter for a named foreign child.

But the ruling Union for Popular Movement (UMP) hit back Monday, accusing the left of "manipulation" and using the row for political ends.

Last week Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy yielded to pressure from campaigners and agreed that some families may be allowed to stay in France "as an exceptional and humanitarian measure, in the interest of the children."

Prefects — state-appointed governors — have been told to examine individual cases and grant temporary residence permits to families in accordance with certain criteria.

These include a parent's "habitual residence in France for at least two years", "the schooling of at least one child in France since September 2005", a child's birth or "habitual residence" in France, and "the absence of any link between a child and the country of which he or she is a national."

According to the government, these guidelines are a "just and humane" response to the row.

UMP spokeswoman Valérie Pecresse said Monday that by maintaining their pressure despite Sarkozy's concession, left-wing associations were "making political hostages" out of the school children.

And she repeated the government's refusal to order an "automatic regularisation of all children who are here illegally but attend school" because "it would create a new network for illegal immigration to France using children to obtain residence papers".

Campaigning groups condemned Sarkozy's concessions as window-dressing.

"We are convinced that the criteria for judging and treating individual cases will not only be arbitrary but also unjust if their fate is left in the hands of prefects," said SOS-Racisme.

The Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which has organised the petition against the government, said that "for thousands of children and young adults, term's end won't be the beginning of summer holidays but rather the beginning of a nightmare".

"Do the heavy boot steps outside the door belong to a policeman or the milkman? Can one trust anyone in a uniform? Will schoolmates, teachers and friends all disappear...? We will not allow these infamies to be done in our name," the petition reads in its English version.

The left-wing opposition has also strongly attacked Sarkozy for a new immigration law, which seeks to encourage more qualified workers to come to France and tightens entrance rules for other foreigners. The law is expected to complete its passage through parliament by the end of June.

The government believes there are between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal immigrants in France and is planning 26,000 deportations this year, some on flights run jointly with Britain.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article