CORRECTED: France must improve treatment of asylum seekers: council

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The Council of Europe's human rights chief has criticised France for its treatment of asylum seekers, demanding that it makes improvements in respecting their rights, in a letter released Tuesday.

"Improvements are necessary, not just in terms of receiving migrants and (granting) asylum, but especially in how they are detained and sent back," the council's human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg said in the letter dated August 3 letter to French Interior Minister Eric Besson.

The letter was written after his visit to the northern French city of Calais on May 19 where President Nicolas Sarkozy's government had dismantled a major illegal immigrant encampment in September last year.

The latest criticism comes after bitter international outcry over France's dismantling of Roma and traveller gypsies camps and their expulsions to Romania and Bulgaria from early August.

Hammarberg said that immigrants are housed in "shameful or unsafe conditions" in France which offers too few places for them in government-run hostels.

He urged France to find alternatives for detaining families with children. "The place of a child is not in detention," he added.

In a response to Hammarberg on September 16, Besson said that 1,000 new places were created in hostels since July 1, bringing to 21,500 the total number of places available for asylum seekers.

He also assured Hammarberg that families with children are housed in centres adapted to their needs and reminded the European commissioner that in 2009 France became the top country in Europe to welcome asylum seekers and is second in the world, just behind America.

© 2010 AFP

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