France Offers Europe an 'Inhuman' Model for Immigration

The French government, which assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Jul. 1, is trying to expand its tough policy against immigration and asylum to all of the EU.

Ahead of assuming the European presidency, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been campaigning for a "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum", which would harmonize countries' policies in both areas.

The pact, already discussed in all European capitals, will be officially presented to the EU Jul. 7 and 8 in the southern French city Cannes.

Sarkozy is urging the EU to adopt "selective immigration" and massive expulsion of undocumented migrants.

In a speech to the Greek parliament early June, Sarkozy said his government did not want "a closed Europe...but nor do we want a Europe that stands by powerless before unchecked waves of immigration."

He said harmonization of national policies was urgent, because Europe "can't at the same time have a common area of free movement of women and men, and have 27 national policies on this issue."

Sarkozy aims to expel 25,000 undocumented migrants per year from France. But human rights groups say this target is putting police under strong pressure, and has led to excesses.

"This policy, based on fulfilling statistics, is incompatible with humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, and has created a dreadful climate," Christophe Deltombe, president of the French humanitarian association Emmaus told IPS.

"Thousands of immigrants, who are perfectly integrated in French society, who work here, have a family and lead a rightful life, live with fear in their bellies, because a control order by the French police can destroy their lives. Why must the French state persecute these people who are useful for our economy and do not provoke a single legal problem, and expel them from our country?"

Thomas Ferenczi, European correspondent of the daily Le Monde, said the policy "violates the freedom of people who have committed no other crime than living illegally in France and in Europe." It also leads to creation of so-called centers of detention, "places where the living conditions are deplorable," Ferenczi said.

On June 21, a Tunisian immigrant detained at the Vincennes center died, apparently of a heart attack. Inmates rioted, and the next day set the center on fire.

"We wanted to know more about him," Koné from the Cote d'Ivoire, who was also detained at the center, told IPS. "He was vomiting blood and his nose was bleeding." After inmates protested, "police fired tear-gas, and then the situation deteriorated."

It was the second blaze at the center in two years.

The Vincennes center has capacity for 140, but the government has confined twice as many in there, according to a report by the Ecumenical Support Service (CIMADE, after its French name), a church group helping refugees and immigrants.

CIMADE points out that an official report Jun. 5 had warned the government that the situation at the center was "untenable".

The report said the Vincennes center had become "by its size and its management mode a symbol of the industrialization of (immigrants) capture and detention." It spoke of "the climate of tension and violence that permanently reigns, where nothing is necessary to set it on fire." The report did not mean that literally, but that is exactly what happened less than three weeks later.

Prime minister François Fillon said immediately after the tragedy that "it will not change government policy. Laws are to be respected, and one shouldn't be on French territory if one does not have the authorization."

Minister for the interior Brice Hortefeux praised the "government's achievements" in expelling immigrants. Two days before the Tunisian detainee died, Hortefeux had announced that "expulsions have increased by 80 percent in the first five months of the year."

The expulsions are "a sign that, conforming to the wishes of our citizens, France is controlling its immigration," he said at a press conference Jun. 19. Hortefeux said French detention centers "are better than most."

France has 31 detention centers for undocumented immigrants. Human rights groups report that suicides, self-mutilations and hunger strikes are common in all of them.

"When people who feel they have committed no crime are handcuffed and led to a prison; when they are threatened with rupture WITH their life, their families, and are threatened with expulsion that they see as an end to life, it's not surprising that we see acts of desperation," CIMADE director Damian Nantes told IPS.

The French now want this to be a model for Europe.


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