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France introduces draft immigration law

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A new draft immigration law in France, which was put forward by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and is expected to be debated by parliament soon, calls for placing new requirements on foreign workers, students and those who want to join their families in France. It requires immigrants to master the French language and foreign workers to prove that they have fixed salaries. Also in the bill, illegal immigrants will never be able to acquire a 10 year residence permit.

French human rights groups have called the country's new draft immigration law "racist", saying it would be a black stain on the country.

"The proposed bill is a blatant violation of immigrants' rights and is based on a selective racist approach," eight rights groups led by the French League for Human Rights (LFRH) said in a joint statement on January 7.

"This draft law does undo all the good work made by the French government in enhancing social welfare and immigrants' rights over the past years," LFRH media officer Patrick Emanuel told IOL.

He hit out at the "inhumane" nature of the new bill as it made no exception for neither the handicapped nor patients who need residence permits to get charge-free medicine.

Calling 2006 as the year of daunting challenges to French Muslims, Lille Mosque Imam Ammar Al-Asfar said the proposed law is part of a series of legislations that restrict the lives of immigrants and raise their ire.

The French parliament has recently given its final backing to a new anti-terrorism bill that would make it possible to install video cameras on the public transport system and in places of worship, including mosques.

Lawmakers from the ruling party have further slipped a clause into a bill requiring schools to recognize in particular the positive aspects of past French colonial history, notably in North Africa .

The move angered rights groups and left-wing politicians, who described the clause as an insult to the second and third generations of the immigrants.

Act Up, a rights organization combating discrimination and one of the eight signatories, has launched a campaign against Sarkozy, comparing him to right-wing leader Jean Marie Le Pen.

The campaign criticized Sarkozy's handling of the recent rioting in a series of run-down high immigration Paris suburbs, especially that the new immigration bill is seen as the product of the riots.

Many of the youths involved in last autumn's riots, mostly French-born children of African and north-African immigrants, complained of heavy-handed policing and of being ostracized from mainstream society.

The unemployment rate among 15-24 year-olds in poor, predominantly black- and Arab-populated, city suburbs' reaches 40 percent, almost twice the national average for the same age group.

There are no official statistics on ethnic minorities in France, in line with the Republican notion that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of their background.