France will keep up its tough stand on illegal immigrants, having repatriated some 25,500 undocumented foreigners so far this year, Interior Minister Bruce Hortefeux told the daily Le Figaro.
France has tightened immigration laws in recent years to make it easier to expel foreigners who threaten public order through theft or begging, but was hit by a wave of criticism earlier this year after a crackdown on Roma camps.
Roma, mainly from European Union members Romania and Bulgaria, make up many of the tens of thousands of people who enter France illegally each year, mainly from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Some 8,300 Roma had been expelled by end-August, prompting a rebuke from the European Commission.
The government says the expulsions, which drew fire from the left, the Catholic church and rights groups, were to clear illegal camps and did not target Roma as a racial group.
Hortefeux said a surge in asylum seekers, with France the number three destination after the United States and Canada, created delays and made it harder to sift through genuine and false claims.
“France, like all countries, has the right to choose who it wants to welcome and who it can welcome into its territory,” he said, noting that legal immigrants had the same social and economic rights in France as French nationals.