France plans to offer incentives to more immigrants to return home, especially to Africa, new Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Wednesday.
France will provide €6 000 to a family with two children if they agree to go back to their country of origin, an incentive that was taken up by about 1 000 families in 2005 and 2 000 in 2006.
“We must increase this measure to help voluntary return. I am very clearly committed to doing that,” said Hortefeux, who last week was named in the rightwing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hortefeux heads a newly-created ministry of immigration, integration, national identity and co-development that is expected toughen up immigration policy and tailor it to France’s employment needs.
Sarkozy has warned of a “social explosion” if immigration is not managed in France where rioting in the immigrant-heavy suburbs in 2005 highlighted the failures of the government’s integration efforts.
Amnesty International expressed concern on Wednesday that a new restrictive immigration policy would affect France’s willingness to take in asylum seekers.
Language skills ‘a must’
“Our concern is that asylum will be under the responsibility of Mr Hortefeux along with everything dealing with immigration control,” said Patrick Delouvin, an official with Amnesty International.
“The asylum request is made in the context of a life and death situation in the country of origin and today it is extremely difficult for an asylum seeker to come to France,” said Genevieve Sevrin, president of Amnesty France.
Hortefeux, who plans to travel soon to Spain and Africa to try to co-ordinate efforts to fight illegal immigration, also said he was in favour of a language test for newcomers to France.
“To be integrated, you need language skills and a professional activity,” he told RFI radio.
France is home to about 1.5 million immigrants from mostly Muslim North Africa and 500 000 from sub-Saharan Africa out of a total immigrant population of about five million, according to the 2004 population census.
No mass legalisation
Hortefeux earlier this week said there would be no mass legalisation of illegals, as was done in neighbouring Spain, and that requests for legal status would be treated on a case-by-case basis.
He predicted there would be about 25 000 expulsions of illegals from France this year, which is roughly the number deported last year.
He estimated the number of illegals in France at between 200 000 and 400 000.