Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Wednesday June 07 2006
The French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was yesterday forced to issue an amnesty to hundreds of children of illegal immigrants who were to be deported at the end of their school term, after a protest movement of teachers and parents began hiding children from police.
But when Mr Sarkozy said the amnesty applied only to children born in France who spoke French and not their parents’ native language, protesters vowed to step up their campaign.
Mr Sarkozy, a hopeful in next year’s presidential elections, has adopted a hard-line stance on immigration, trying to win over voters from the extreme right. He had previously ordered that all children of illegal immigrants would be forcibly removed at the end of the French school term on June 30, after a de facto truce expired. But outraged opposition politicians and welfare groups vowed to fight the measure, triggering a campaign of civil disobedience.
Teachers, parents, army wives and religious figures began hiding children, moving them from safe house to safe house at night. Their action stopped the deportation of some families.
Presenting his new law on "selective" immigration to the senate yesterday, Mr Sarkozy announced the reprieve for certain children for "humanitarian reasons".
The amnesty would involve around 1,200 children and 800 families. It would apply only to families with children born and educated in France who spoke French and not their parents’ mother tongue. Those families would be considered case by case and given a residence permit. Other families would be offered financial incentives for voluntarily returning to their native countries.
But Richard Rayon, spokesman for the group Education without Frontiers, which has been working to help the children, said yesterday that the reprieve would affect only about 2% of what he estimated to be 100,000 children under threat of expulsion.
He said protests must be "stepped up" and his group was planning to picket the opening of President Jacques Chirac’s pet project, the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris’s new museum of African and Asian art, which opens next month.
He said : "Mobilisation pays. If there hadn’t been all these [protest] actions with people sheltering and hiding children in danger and supporting pupils’ parents, Nicolas Sarkozy would not have come up with this measure."
He said Mr Sarkozy was still intent on a "children-hunt" and yesterday’s measures were nothing more than setting out the rules for that "hunt".
Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee approved a report urging a shakeup of the French justice system after a "judicial catastrophe" in which at least 13 innocent people were wrongfully jailed for child sex abuse in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in France since the end of the second world war.
The case, in the northern town of Outreau, prompted Mr Chirac to issue a rare public apology.
The report called for more transparency and more spending on justice, going some way to separating the roles of investigating magistrates and judges, while replacing single magistrates with teams of three.
But it did not recommend scrapping the system, in which magistrates investigate a case to establish the facts, in favour of an adversarial system in which prosecutors argue with defence lawyers before a judge.