Posted on May 22, 2006

Campaigners Defy Sarkozy Plan to Deport Schoolchildren

Kim Willsher, Guardian (London), May 20, 2006

French parents, councillors and human rights campaigners yesterday vowed to “hide” school and college pupils threatened with deportation because their parents are in the country illegally.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, has ordered local police to round up the youngsters and their families and ensure they are expelled after the school term finishes at the end of June. Even those who are French-born will not be spared.

The move has outraged opposition party representatives and welfare organisations, leading to calls for a countrywide campaign of civil disobedience.

Pierre Labeyrie, a Green party councillor in Toulouse, said he would have no hesitation in breaking the law. “We will give these people our support, our protection. If they ask us to shelter them, we will not close our doors, we take them in and feed them,” he told Libération. “We will not denounce them to the police.”

A protest group, the Réseau Education sans Frontières (Education Without Borders), claims to have more than 24,000 signatures against the expulsions.

“For thousands of children and youngsters, June 30 2006 will not mark the start of the summer holidays but the beginning of their suffering,” it said. “For their holidays these children and youngsters will play at being fugitives for real, with or without their parents, listening out for noises at dawn, trembling when they see a uniform and living with the threat of losing their school, their teachers, their friends for ever. If they’re arrested, the biggest game of their summer will be a walk-on role in a sordid police spectacle.”

Mr Sarkozy, a member of France’s centre-right government and presidential hopeful, has been accused of pandering to extreme rightwing voters. He has set a target of 25,000 deportations by the end of 2006 but said he hoped to exceed this.

He refused to make an exception for those living illegally in France but with children in the education system, saying this would create “another immigration channel”. Libération quoted the minister as saying: “It was a humane decision not to deport during the school year.”

But the paper’s editorial was scathing: “In an outburst of kindness the minister of the interior has authorised them [pupils and students] to finish the school year, but no sooner will the school doors close then the wave of deportations will begin. Holidays for some, being hunted and fearful for others.”

Mr Sarkozy, whose tough new immigration law was passed by the French lower house of parliament on Wednesday, has declared that foreigners in France could “like it or leave it”.

Yesterday he was visiting the former French colonies of Mali and Benin where he received hostile receptions.

The day before his visit, the minister agreed to repatriate a woman and her two children, aged five and three, who had been forced on to a plane and expelled to Mali a week ago while their application for residency was under review.

His announcement that the deportation was an “administrative error” and that the family had been granted temporary permission to reside in France, failed to calm tempers in the west African country where he was greeted with cries of “Sarkozy racist”.