Development & Aid, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, Population

RIGHTS-FRANCE: Grow Up and Get Out

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Sep 27 2005 (IPS) - Eighteen-year-old student Guy Effeye from Cameroon got a year’s study permit in Paris last week. It marked a symbolic victory for a long campaign.

Effeye, who is attending the final year of secondary school in Epinay-sur-Seine, a northern neighbourhood in Paris, had earlier been ordered out of France by the ministry of interior on the ground that he lives illegally in France.

Effeye was ordered out soon after he turned 18 in April. Under French law undocumented immigrant teenagers, who mostly arrived with their families as children, cannot be expelled until they turn 18. Effeye was arrested Aug. 17, and his expulsion was set for Sep. 17.

But that day his teachers, fellow students and union leaders occupied the departure hall at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris from where his flight to Cameroon was to depart. They succeeded in blocking his departure.

Effeye is among thousands of teenagers being picked for expulsion after they turn 18. Minister for the interior Nicholas Sarkozy has set a target of 25,000 such expulsions in a campaign launched early this year.

That campaign has led French authorities to hunt down children of illegal immigrants in schools around the country.

But the counter-campaign over Effeye led to calls for a more humanitarian approach. Following the airport hall protest, member of parliament from the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party Eric Raoult called for a more humanitarian solution in Effeye’s case. The ministry sent Effeye a year’s residence permit some days later.

But temporary victory for Effeye does not mean the end of expulsion for other students being rounded up. Many have been packed off to their countries of origin through the summer, even when they have no friends or relatives there.

“This campaign is a humanitarian devastation,” Richard Moyon, teacher at a secondary school in Chaténay-Malabry just north of Paris told IPS. “We teachers have learnt that a number of immigrant students who just celebrated their 18th birthday were arrested and expelled from France.”

Earlier this summer Moyon founded the Group Jean-Jaurès, named after the renowned philosophy professor and socialist leader of the late 19th century.

The group has expanded rapidly, Moyon says. “Now practically all teachers’ unions have signed our appeal against this campaign of expulsions, and political parties and associations have also come to support our efforts to protect students and their parents.”

The government meanwhile is considering abolition of the ‘juris soli’ under which citizenship is given to all people born in French territory, irrespective of their racial origin.

“We must break the taboo surrounding this question and consider the introduction of the juris sanguinis as criteria for citizenship,” Francois Baroin, minister for overseas territories, said earlier this month. The ‘juris sanguinis’ principle would provide citizenship on the basis of a selected race.

Had this principle been applied since the 1960s, football star Zinedine Zidane for example would never have obtained French nationality.

Baroin argued that existing law is being misused in French overseas territories such as the island of Mayotte in the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean.

“Pregnant women from the Comoros Islands come to Mayotte to gave birth in order to register their children as French nationals,” he said. “In Mayotte you can even buy French paternity for a baby.”

Malek Boutih, general secretary of the leading opposition Socialist party says a questioning of the French secular law of citizenship “is opening a dangerous debate which would lead to discriminate against all immigrants in France from a racist viewpoint.”

Baroin’s call “is the more scandalous as it adds to a long campaign of condemnation of immigrants as the source of all French troubles,” Boutih told IPS..

Other organisations see Baroin’s call as a sign that the next presidential campaign due early 2007 will focus on immigration.

“It is clear that some political parties are already adopting arguments from the French neo-fascists on questions such as immigration and the racial structure of the French population,” Dominique Sopo from SOS Racism told IPS..

“There is a disquieting Le Penisation among politicians,” Sopo said, referring to the French neo-fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen who has been stoking racial hatred since 1975 and achieved considerable electoral success. Le Pen’s party, the Front National, has on average obtained some 15 percent of the national vote in all elections.

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