France's new Immigration Minister, Brice Hortefeux, is suggesting an approach for taking care of what many French consider to be a serious immigration problem. He has introduced the possibility of paying immigrants to return to their home country.
The idea, which would provide legal immigrants with a "nest-egg" of $8,000 to return home, is not new. In 2005 and 2006, a similar scheme convinced 3,000 families to take the money and run. Approximately 4.5 million immigrants live in France according to estimates in mid-2006, with up to an additional half-million illegal migrants.
<$adv0> Immigration was an issue central to recently elected President Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign. According to Sarkozy, France is choked by 'uncontrolled immigration,' and the 53% of the population who voted him into the presidency appear to agree with his policies.
"We must increase this measure to help voluntary return. I am very clearly committed to doing that," said Hortefeux, who was appointed by the new president in mid-May to head the new Immigration and National Identity Ministry.
An estimated two million immigrants in France are from north and sub-Saharan Africa. The 2005 riots in mainly immigrant suburbs brought the subject of immigration to the forefront in the race for the French presidency. These immigrants of Arab and African origin have been barely represented in the country's politics, and their lack of integration into French society has been cited as a driving factor in the nationwide riots.
Related to the issue, another high-profile appointment is Sarkozy's election campaign spokeswoman Rachida Dati at the justice ministry. She becomes the first politician of North African origin to hold a top French government post, and is one of the seven women appointees seen as a shift away from the male-dominated political climate.
Hortefeux has also said that there will be no mass legalization of illegal immigrants and that the legal status requests would be taken on a case-by-case basis. He is also in favor of a language test for legal migrants.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International is worried that France's new hard-line on immigration will make the country less likely to take in those seeking amnesty.
"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 the president of Amnesty France, Genevieve Sevrin.
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