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July 1998, Volume 5, Number 7

France: 70,000 Get Amnesty

On June 2, France said that it will allow 70,000 of the 150,000 immigrants, known as "sans papiers" because they do not have residence papers, to remain in France as part of an amnesty program. This means that France will have to remove the 80,000 foreigners who applied for amnesty and were not granted resident status.

A French court in Aix-en-Provence sentenced a member of the National Front to 15 years in prison for the murder of a French teenager of African origin in 1995.

French conservatives continue to debate how to deal with the National Front, which is supported by 10 to 20 percent of French voters. Former prime minister Edouard Balladur in June 1998 endorsed "national preference," or reserving some jobs and services for French nationals. Balladur proposed creating a commission to examine "whether it would be normal or abnormal, legitimate or contrary to the nation's traditional values, to reserve certain services to French nationals and to refuse them to foreign residents." Polls suggest that at least one-third of French voters support national preference.

As one example of national preference, the National Front-led city of Vitrolles had offered FF5000 ($820) bonuses to native French and European Union couples who had babies. One payment was made before a French court ruled that this policy was unconstitutional, since it discriminated against non-Europeans.

Five EU countries --Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, and Denmark--have anti-immigrant parties that are supported by more than five percent of voters.

Reports issued by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the Council of Europe in June 1998 charged that France was not doing enough to head off racism and xenophobia and that frequent changes in immigration policy impeded integration. Such changes "can create an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment between immigrants and the rest of the population."

France has about 1.6 million foreign workers; six percent of the labor force of 26 million. The overall unemployment rate for French nationals in 1997 was 12 percent, and 31 percent for those from non-European Union countries. About 50 percent of North Africans who are not French nationals were jobless.

The German soccer hooligans who went on a rampage in Lens after a soccer game were quickly deported to Germany. To prevent violence, French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement granted police special powers to deport suspected ringleaders before any crimes were committed. In Marseilles, English soccer fans clashed with French youth from North Africa.

Charles Trueheart, "French Police Crack Down On World Cup Hooliganism," Washington Post, June 23, 1998. Angeline Oyog, "French political elite endorses legalized racism," Inter Press Service, June 22, 1998. "France lets 70,000 immigrants lacking papers stay," Reuters, June 2, 1998.