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September 1998, Volume 5, Number 9

France: Vatican, Politics

Illegal immigrants facing expulsion occupied the Vatican embassy in Paris the first weekend in August. The 12 immigrants were initially welcomed and fed by the Vatican ambassador to Paris, who said he did so in the spirit of the Catholic Church's doctrine of being kind to strangers. However, the French interior minister said the government could only reconsider these cases if the asylum seekers left the Vatican embassy. The Vatican embassy then asked them to leave, which they did after one week.

France is having trouble removing illegal foreigners whose applications for legalization have been rejected. Beginning in Fall 1997, illegal foreigners in France were allowed to apply for immigrant status. Some 142,000 applied and about 70,000 were rejected. After a hunger strike by rejected migrants occupying a Protestant church in the Batignolles neighborhood of Paris ended in July 1998, the interior minister agreed to consider appeals from the 70,000 rejected immigrants "in a positive spirit" and not to expel any of them until all appeals had been exhausted.

Occupying churches seems an effective method of avoiding removal. According to immigrant advocates, of the 314 people who occupied the Church of St. Bernard in 1996, only 26 were removed from France. On August 19, 1998, the interior ministry announced changes to make it easier for an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 foreigners whose legalization applications were rejected to become immigrants.

Jacques Blanc, president of the assembly for the Languedoc-Roussillon region, accepted support from the National Front to keep his post after elections in March 1998, and was expelled from the umbrella conservative parties, the Union for French Democracy. In August, the UFD permitted Blanc to rejoin.

There are more than four million "foreigners" in France, mostly from former colonies in Maghreb and Polynesia. In mid-August, France refused entry to 22 Pakistanis who attempted entry with forged documents.

Robert Graham, "Paris protest in Vatican nuncio's office," Financial Times, August 6, 1998. Craig Whitney, "African immigrants in Paris occupy Nunciature for 5th day," New York Times, August 6, 1998. "Vatican urges immigrants to end French occupation," Reuters, August 4, 1998.