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May 1996, Volume 3, Number 5

French Commission Recommends Immigration Restrictions/a>

A parliamentary commission on April 21 called for a tightening of the country's immigration laws in order to reduce the "temptations" of France to unauthorized foreigners. Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in France range from 250,000 to 600,000, with suggestions that their number increases by 30,000 per year.

The Sauvaigo commission's 46 recommendations include restricting the access of illegal aliens to free health care and education, finger-printing visa applicants from some countries, and holding suspected illegal immigrants for up 45 days to facilitate deportation--in many cases, police cannot identify and thus deport aliens under the current 10 day detention limit.

The commission recommended that employers of illegal workers should be made to pay for their repatriation, and called for creation of a computerized register of anyone offering lodging or hospitality to foreigners.

The 30 member commission made its recommendations on a 26-4 vote, with the Socialist members dissenting.

The government was divided in its reactions to the report-- the French minister for humanitarian assistance said it contained "unacceptable and scandalous" ideas.

The government announced that it had apprehended 2,000 illegal foreign workers in 1995. So far in 1996, police raided 114 illegal workshops in Paris.

Some questioned the constitutionality of the recommendations. The National Front endorsed the recommendations, but said they did not go far enough--it calls for the repatriation of 3 million immigrants to their countries of origin and for the re-examination of 2.5 million naturalizations granted since 1974. A recent poll found that 28 percent of the French supported the National Front, up from 19 percent in January 1994.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission criticized France on April 11 for the "wave of xenophobia and racism" sweeping the country, criticizing the "Pasqua laws" enacted in 1993 that prevent the deportation of foreigners married to French nationals, and the parents of children born in France, but do not grant some of these foreigners work or residence visas. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Paris in 1948.

The first week of April, Amnesty International issued a report that charged French police with cruelty and ill-treatment of foreigners.

A group of African immigrants were shuttled from a church to a gym to a theater to avoid deportation from France--the police were asked to remove the Africans from the church by Catholic Church authorities. Some of the Africans were deported to Mali; in one case, Malians attacked the police who accompanied them after the plane landed.

France returned more than more than 10,000 foreigners to their countries of origin in 1995. A plane returning a drug trafficker to the Congo had to make an emergency landing in Marseille after passengers attacked the policemen accompanying the trafficker for not removing his handcuffs.

Of the 21,170 applicants for political asylum in France in 1995, about 16 percent or 3,400 were accepted as refugees, including 16 of 2200 Algerian applicants. There were 26,000 asylum applications in 1994.

France announced in March 1996 that it would remove border checks on persons coming from Schengen partners Germany and Spain, but continue to check persons coming from the Benelux until an agreement on drugs is reached with the Netherlands.

France's population rose from 40 million to 58 million since World War II, and 25 percent of the increase was due to immigration. The immigrants included 1.5 million expatriates who returned to France from overseas colonies after 1956, including 650,000 from Algeria.

The percentage of foreigners in France has been about 6.5 percent since 1970, the level reached in 1931 after a wave of immigration by foreign workers in the 1920s.

On April 24, the French government announced new measures to use computers to control health care costs, another effort to rein in the rising costs of the social welfare state. Current French law permits individuals to choose their doctors, with the government picking up most of the costs. Efforts to reduce pensions for government workers set off strikes.

Integration. Roubaix, a city in northern France that is one third of immigrant origin, was in the news because of a bombing outside police headquarters that prompted a chase and shoot out that ended in Belgium.

Many of the immigrants first came to Roubaix to work in the textile industry. Over the past 30 years, the textile industry has disappeared, and there are few jobs for second generation immigrants.

City officials say it was a mistake to concentrate the immigrations in one area, where extremism can take root . In Alma-Gare, near the site of the gun fight, most women are veiled and the adolescent boys often were Arafat-style headgear. Young people of North African background complain that they are not "treated properly" by the French and not been given an equal chance--hence their turn to fundamentalist Islam.

A government commission chaired by National Assembly member Henri Cuq recommended that some high-rise apartment complexes that house immigrants be destroyed because they are crime and health hazards. About 150,000 immigrants, most from north and west Africa, live in France's 710 high-rise hostels. Most are run by subsidized associations or state agencies.

The report said that 25 hostels, most in the Paris area, should be destroyed within the next five years. Others should be rehabilitated, with new controls to keep out illegal residents. Some hostels reportedly hold three times as many residents as they should.

The hostels reportedly hamper integration because the immigrants are kept isolated from French society. Some managers of the hostels have given authority to African elders, who run the hostels according to tribal rules.

Overseas. On April 12, Prime Minister Alain Juppe said he would increase efforts to prevent illegal immigration into French Guyana, France's only South American possession. Juppe said he planned to build a detention center in St. Laurent, and to increase patrols on the nation's eastern border with Brazil. Illegal aliens, primarily from Brazil, Haiti and Surinam, make up an estimated 25 percent of French Guyana's population of 150,000, and that 16,000 foreigners were expelled to Surinam.

St. Laurent was used by France from the mid-19th century until 1946 as the center of its Devil's Island penal colony complex. Unemployment in French Guyana is 23 percent, and half of its economy is directly linked to a rocket base in Ariane.

"French ministers speak out against anti-immigration proposals," Agence France Presse, April 18, 1996. Emily Picy, "French Deputies Seek Crackdown on Illegal Migrants," Reuters, April 16, 1996. Mary Dejevsky, "French rust belt provides ready recruits for Islam," The Independent, April 16, 1996. Geoffrey Varley, "French right calls for tougher anti-immigration laws, Agence France Presse, April 16, 1996. Craig Whitney, "African Immigrants Refusing to Leave France," New York Times, April 4, 1996. "France is urged to restrict migrants," The Independent, April 17, 1996. Barry James, "UN rights report flays France for its 'Racist' Immigration Laws," International Herald Tribune, April 12, 1996. Alexander Miles, "France to tighten French Guyana's borders," April 12, 1996. "French report hits at immigrant hostels," Reuters, April 10, 1996.