France expelled more illegal immigrants last year than ever before, its government announced today.
Interior minister Claude Gueant told a press conference that the French authorities removed 32,912 illegal immigrants in 2011, up 17.5 per cent from 2010.
‘This result is 5,000 higher than the initial objective decided upon at the start of the year. It is the highest result ever achieved,’ he said.
Mr Gueant, a close ally of President Sarkozy and a well-known hardliner on immigration, said he wants the number of expulsions to rise to 35,000 this year.
He also vowed to significantly reduce legal immigration.
Mr Gueant added that immigrants who want to stay in France will have to shed traditions which contradict French values, saying: ‘We reject . . . cloistered lives lived along ethnic and religious grounds, those that live by their own laws.
‘The foreigners that we welcome here must integrate themselves. It is up to them to adapt to us, not the other way around.’
The comment was in part a reference to France’s ban on Islamic face veils, a 2010 law that supporters said defended women’s freedoms and critics said stigmatized millions of moderate Muslims.
France is home to the largest Muslim population in western Europe, and many have family ties to former French colonies in North Africa.
The majority of immigrants to France arrive legally, but the number of new arrivals is shrinking and Mr Gueant wants to reduce it further.
The number of residency permits issued last year shrank 3.6 percent to 182,595, the interior minister said.
‘We want to fight against illegal immigration and control the flow of normal immigration to France.
‘What is at stake is the cohesion and the equilibrium of our society and our ability to maintain our tradition of welcoming them,’ he told reporters.
With the French presidential elections scheduled for April and May, the high-profile announcement is being seen as an attempt by President Sarkozy to appeal to anti-immigrant voters.
Mr Sarkozy has championed strict policies on crime and illegal immigration, but is threatened in this area by far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who has a strong voter base and whose National Front party is strongly anti-immigration.
While the President has not formally announced his candidacy for the spring elections, he is widely expected to seek a second term in power.